Your IQ score is determined by a standardized test. In other words, a wide range of people take the test, and then scores get calculated based on everyone’s performance. When people take the test subsequently, they are compared to the standard, and this places them in certain percentiles of intelligence.
Research shows that around 68% of people have an average IQ. But what is the average IQ determined by? What does IQ actually mean, and what causes a person to be more or less than the average?
What Is IQ?
IQ is short for Intelligence Quotient. It is used as a measure of a person’s intelligence, and their intellectual potential. Various tests can be used to discover what your IQ is. These tests ask you questions designed to challenge your reasoning and problem-solving skills. Your test results are then compared to the average.
The modern interest in intelligence testing in the US comes from the work of French psychologist Alfred Binet. He developed a test that evaluated basic intellectual functions in schoolchildren, as well as an aid in diagnosing mental health disorders. Then, in 1908, Henry Herbert Goddard translated Binet’s intelligence test into English.
While Goddard originally used the test in his work with intellectually disabled children, he introduced the test into public schools by 1911. By 1914, intelligence testing was used as evidence in court.
The subject of IQ is somewhat controversial, as scientists and psychologists have been trying for many years to determine the influence that genetics, socio-economic status, and location have on IQ scores. The methods of testing also sometimes come under fire.
There are many different tests, with their own approaches and ranges of potential IQs. As each test is different, it’s basically meaningless to just say what your IQ score without mentioning which test you’ve taken.
Some of the better-known IQ tests include:
- Cattell III B
- Cattell III A Culture Fair
- Ravens Advanced Matrices
- Ravens Standard Matrices
- Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-V)
- Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Adults (WAIS)
- Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
- Differential Ability Scales (DAS)
- Peabody Individual Achievement Test
Average Is as Average Does
The average score on an IQ test is, by design, 100, with around 68% of people falling within 15 points either side of that score. After testing a wide range of people, scientists standardize the results so that 100 is the average. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The actual average IQ varies from country to country, and different studies have had varying results.
According to a 2010 study, the countries with the highest average IQ are:
- Hong Kong; Singapore – 108
- South Korea – 106
- China; Japan; Taiwan – 105
- Iceland; Switzerland; Macau – 101
- UK; Austria; Netherlands; Norway; Luxembourg; Liechtenstein – 100
The USA sits at an average of 98. This puts the US in 24th place out of 108 countries and provinces. Other countries with the same score are Australia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Latvia, and Spain.
According to the same study, the countries with the lowest average IQ are:
- Kenya; Namibia; South Africa; Tanzania; Zimbabwe – 72
- Botswana; Ghana; Zambia – 71
- Nigeria – 69
- Swaziland – 68
- Lesotho – 67
- Mozambique – 64
- Malawi – 60
It’s also been shown that having an IQ is by no means a guarantee of success in life, where motivation, attitude, and perseverance can make all the difference. Having a genius level score doesn’t mean you’ll translate that into instant success, just as being below the average is no reason to limit your ambitions or accept being mediocre.
The Flynn Effect
One interesting phenomenon in the field of IQ testing is that scores keep getting higher. This is known as the Flynn effect, named for James Flynn, the scientist who discovered it in the 1980s. He noticed that soldiers taking IQ tests in the 80s scored significantly higher than their counterparts that took the same test in the 1950s. Investigation of this effect showed that people’s scores have been consistently improving by between three and ten points every decade.
Because of the way the tests are standardized, this means that a person who scores 100 on an IQ test today would be considered a genius by the standards of the 1900s. Conversely, someone who got an average score 100 years ago would have an equivalent IQ of 70 these days, which is low enough to be considered intellectually disabled.
The reasons for this increase have not been conclusively determined, but scientists think that it is a result of improvements in nutrition, health care, vaccination, and education. The greatest gains have been seen in abstract thinking and reasoning, while improvements in arithmetic and vocabulary have been much smaller. This points to our changing way of life as a driving cause for the increase in overall intelligence.
Look to Your Family Tree
The influence of genetics is one of the most important, and yet controversial, subjects in the field of intelligence testing. The general scientific consensus is that IQ scores are mostly influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. How exactly these interact, and which has more of an effect, is still much debated.
Interestingly, it seems that in poorer families, environmental factors cause most of the differences in IQ scores, and genetic influence is minimal. The opposite seems to be the case in more affluential families, where genetic differences contribute much more to the varying IQ levels.
“The average IQ in America is – and this can be proven mathematically – average.” – P. J. O’Rourke
What is the average IQ? The answer depends on where you are in the world, and which test you are doing. As far as the tests themselves are concerned, the average is 100, and everyone is compared in relation to that score. A score of 85-115 is generally considered to be within the average, as the majority of people fit within this group. If you’re in the top 2%, you’re a genius, according to the tests.
But what this might mean for you will depend on your choices. As Stephen Hawking put it, “People who boast about their IQ are losers.” If you believe your IQ is above average, you can always get in touch with Mensa and find out what steps you can take next.