IQ’s Falling


Mean IQ scores, assuming a national average of 98 and a standard deviation of 15–by highest degree attained by the decade degree-holders graduated* (N = 14,978):

Graduated in Grad degree Undergrad HS diploma
1960s 114.0 111.3 99.3
1970s 112.5 107.9 96.4
1980s 109.4 105.2 94.8
1990s 108.1 103.4 95.0
2000s 105.8 103.5 94.6
2010s n/a 100.4 93.5



Today’s bachelor’s degree is the equivalent of a high school graduation certificate from fifty years ago, and today’s graduate degree falls short of a bachelor’s degree from a generation ago.

This is an inevitable consequence of increasing the share of the population that attends college. In the sixties, 10% of American adults had college degrees. Since then that figure has more than tripled, to 34% today.

To say we’re well into the territory of diminishing returns is to understate the problem–-we’re past the point of negative returns. Most Americans in college today are not benefiting from being there. They’re foregoing work to accrue debt for degrees that, if they increase earning power at all, do so only marginally and they’re picking up an unhelpful sense of entitlement in the process.

Outstanding student loan debt in America is an estimated $1.5 trillion. As the degree devaluation above strongly suggests, a significant proportion of this debt–a majority of it in my estimation–is bad debt. It will not be repaid because those holding it literally cannot repay it. They lack the earning power to do so.

* Values for each decade come from those born two decades prior, so the time of actual graduation is approximate. For example, the result for the 1960s comes from the wordsum scores of those born in the 1940s; the result for the 1970s from those born in the 1950s, and so on. The sample size for graduate degrees among those graduating since 2010 is, at a whopping 2, too small to report. The 2018 iteration of the survey will be out in the coming months and I’ll update the table accordingly if the sample is bumped enough to merit doing so.


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