Fertility and Intelligence

Fertility and intelligence research has indicated that in humans, fertility rate and intelligence tend to be inversely correlated, that is to say, the more intelligent, as measured by IQ tests, exhibit a lower total fertility rate than the less intelligent. Survival rates are also correlated with IQ, so the net effect on population intelligence is unclear.

It is theorized that if the inverse correlation of IQ with fertility rate is stronger than the correlation of survival rate, and if heritable factors involved in IQ are consistently expressed in populations with different fertility rates, and if this continued over a significant number of generations, it could lead to a decrease in population IQ scores. Other correlates of IQ include income and educational attainment, which are also inversely correlated with fertility rate, and are to some degree heritable.

Some of the first studies into the subject were carried out on individuals living before the advent of IQ testing, in the late 19th century, by looking at the fertility of men listed in ‘Who’s Who’ (short biographies of notable individuals), these individuals being presumably of high intelligence. These men, taken as a whole, had few children, implying a correlation. Nobel Prize winning physicist William Shockley controversially argued from the mid-1960s through the 1980s that ‘the future of the population was threatened because people with low IQs had more children than those with high IQs.’ In 1963, Weyl and Possony asserted that comparatively small differences in average intelligence can become very large differences in the very high I.Q. ranges. A decline in average psychometric intelligence of only a few points will mean a much smaller population of gifted individuals.

More rigorous studies carried out on Americans alive after WWII returned different results suggesting a slight positive correlation with respect to intelligence. The findings from these investigations were consistent enough for Osborn and Bajema, writing as late as 1972, to conclude that fertility patterns were eugenic, and that ‘the reproductive trend toward an increase in the frequency of genes associated with higher IQ… will probably continue in the foreseeable future in the United States and will be found also in other industrial welfare-state democracies.’ Several reviewers considered the findings premature, arguing that the samples were nationally unrepresentative, generally being confined to whites born between 1910 and 1940 in the Great Lakes States. Other researchers began to report a negative correlation in the 1960s after two decades of neutral or positive fertility.

In 1982, Population Studies researcher Daniel Vining sought to address these issues in a large study on the fertility of over 10,000 individuals throughout the United States, who were then aged 25 to 34. The average fertility in his study was correlated at −0.86 with IQ for white women and −0.96 for black women. Vining argued that this indicated a drop in the genotypic average IQ of 1.6 points per generation for the white population, and 2.4 points per generation for the black population. In considering these results along with those from earlier researchers, Vining wrote that ‘in periods of rising birth rates, persons with higher intelligence tend to have fertility equal to, if not exceeding, that of the population as a whole,’ but, ‘The recent decline in fertility thus seems to have restored the dysgenic trend observed for a comparable period of falling fertility between 1850 and 1940.’ To address the concern that the fertility of this sample could not be considered complete, Vining carried out a follow-up study for the same sample 18 years later, reporting the same, though slightly decreased, negative correlation between IQ and fertility. Regardless of the methodology employed, later research has generally supported that of Vining.

In a 1988 study, Retherford and Sewell examined the association between the measured intelligence and fertility of over 9,000 high school graduates in Wisconsin in 1957, and confirmed the inverse relationship between IQ and fertility for both sexes, but much more so for females. If children had, on average, the same IQ as their parents, IQ would decline by .81 points per generation. Taking .71 for the additive heritability of IQ as given by Jinks & Fulker, they calculated a dysgenic decline of .57 IQ points per generation. Another way of checking the negative relationship between IQ and fertility is to consider the relationship which educational attainment has to fertility, since education is known to be a reasonable proxy for IQ, correlating with IQ at .55.

In a 1999 study examining the relationship between IQ and education in a large national sample, David Rowe and others found not only that achieved education had a high heritability (.68) and that half of the variance in education was explained by an underlying genetic component shared by IQ, education, and socioeconomic class. One study investigating fertility and education carried out in 1991 found that high school dropouts in America had the most children (2.5 on average), with high school graduates having fewer children, and college graduates having the fewest children (1.56 on average).

‘The Bell Curve’ (1994) argued that the average genotypic IQ of the United States was declining due to both dysgenetic fertility and large scale immigration of groups with low average IQ. In his book ‘Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations’ (1996), British psychologist Richard Lynn estimated that genotypic IQ declined by 5 IQ points in Britain between 1890 and 1980. For the United States, genotypic IQ was estimated to have declined by 2.5 IQ points for whites and 6.2 IQ points for blacks between 1890 and 1960–1964. Intelligence researcher James Flynn confirmed Lynn’s assertions in a 2009 British study. Robert Klark Graham in 1998 argued that genocide and class warfare, in particular discussing the examples of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, have had a dysgenic effect through the killing of the more intelligent by the less intelligent.

Meisenberg (2010) found that intelligence in the US was negatively related to the number of children, with age-controlled correlations of −.156, −.069, −.235 and −.028 for White females, White males, Black females and Black males. This effect was related mainly to the general intelligence factor and was caused in part by education and income, and to a lesser extent by the more ‘liberal’ gender attitudes of those with higher intelligence. Without migration the average IQ of the US population will decline by about 0.8 points per generation.

Although much of the research into intelligence and fertility has been restricted to individuals within a single nation (usually the United States), Steven Shatz (2008) extended the research internationally; he finds that ‘There is a strong tendency for countries with lower national IQ scores to have higher fertility rates and for countries with higher national IQ scores to have lower fertility rates.’ Lynn and Harvey (2008) found a correlation of −0.73 between national IQ and fertility. They estimated that the effect had been ‘a decline in the world’s genotypic IQ of 0.86 IQ points for the years 1950–2000. A further decline of 1.28 IQ points in the world’s genotypic IQ is projected for the years 2000–2050.’ In the first period this effect had been compensated for by the Flynn effect causing a rise in phenotypic IQ but recent studies in four developed nations had found it has now ceased or gone into reverse. They thought it probable that both genotypic and phenotypic IQ will gradually start to decline for the whole world.

As nations with higher IQ scores have access to more resources, and thus, prophylactics and fertility education, than nations with lower IQ scores, the birth rate would be expected to be lower. Meisenberg (2009) found that both GDP and intelligence independently decrease fertility. Liberal democracy had only a weak and inconsistent effect. Furthermore, ‘At present rates of fertility and mortality and in the absence of changes within countries, the average IQ of the young world population would decline by 1.34 points per decade and the average per capita income would decline by 0.79% per year.’

According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, the single universal factor affecting fertility rate decline is mortality decline, regardless of race, religion or political context. Extrapolated from this sole factor of mortality, there are other universal factors affecting fertility rates, regardless of race, religion or political context.This well-proven and exhaustively studied group of factors has affected the population policy of all UN member nations: Female age at marriage (the younger the female at first marriage, the higher the rate of fertility and vice versa); Female literacy and education (the higher the female education, the lower the fertility rate); Female mortality rates in childbirth and infant/child mortality (the higher the rates of death in childbirth, and crude infant or child deaths, the higher the crude fertility rate); Female economic participation (the greater the female participation in any form of economic activity or capacity, the lower their fertility); and Access to contraception.

A theory to explain the fertility-intelligence relationship is that while income and IQ are positively correlated, fertility is inversely correlated with income, that is, the higher incomes, the lower the fertility rates and vice versa. This well-studied inverse correlation is known as the demographic-economic paradox, which shows an inverse correlation between wealth and fertility within and between nations. The higher the level of education and GDP per capita of a human population, subpopulation or social stratum, the fewer children are born. In a 1974 UN population conference in Bucharest, Karan Singh, a former minister of population in India, illustrated this trend by stating ‘Development is the best contraceptive.’ Education is also a factor; people often delay childbearing in order to spend more time getting education, and thus have fewer children. Conversely, early childbearing can interfere with education, so those with early or frequent childbearing are likely to be less educated. While education and childbearing place competing demands on a persons resources, education is positively correlated with IQ.

Among a sample of women using birth control methods of comparable theoretical effectiveness, success rates were related to IQ, with the percentages of high, medium and low IQ women having unwanted births during a three-year interval being 3%, 8% and 11%, respectively. Since the effectiveness of many methods of birth control is directly correlated with proper usage, an alternate interpretation of the data would indicate lower IQ women were less likely to use birth control consistently and correctly. Another study found that after an unwanted pregnancy has occurred, higher IQ couples are more likely to obtain abortions; and unmarried teenage girls who become pregnant are found to be more likely to carry their babies to term if they are doing poorly in school. Conversely, while desired family size in the United States is similar for women of all IQ levels, highly educated women are found to be more likely to say that they desire more children than they have, indicating a ‘deficit fertility’ in the highly intelligent. In her review of reproductive trends in the United States, Van Court argues that ‘each factor – from initially employing some form of contraception, to successful implementation of the method, to termination of an accidental pregnancy when it occurs – involves selection against intelligence.’

While it may seem obvious that such differences in fertility would result in a progressive change of IQ, Preston and Campbell (1993) argued that this is a mathematical fallacy that applies only when looking at closed subpopulations. In their mathematical model, with constant differences in fertility, since children’s IQ can be more or less than that of their parents, a steady-state equilibrium is argued to be established between different subpopulations with different IQ. The mean IQ will not change in the absence of a change of the fertility differences. The steady-state IQ distribution will be lower for negative differential fertility than for positive, but these differences are small. For the extreme and unrealistic assumption of endogamous mating in IQ subgroups, a differential fertility change of 2.5/1.5 to 1.5/2.5 (high IQ/low IQ) causes a maximum shift of four IQ points. For random mating, the shift is less than one IQ point.

The general increase in IQ test scores, the Flynn effect, has been argued to be evidence against dysgenic arguments. Geneticist Steve Connor wrote that Lynn, writing in ‘Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations,’ ‘misunderstood modern ideas of genetics.’ ‘A flaw in his argument of genetic deterioration in intelligence was the widely accepted fact that intelligence as measured by IQ tests has actually increased over the past 50 years.’ If the genes causing IQ have been adversely affected, IQ scores should reasonably be expected to change in the same direction, yet the reverse has occurred. However, it has been argued that genotypic IQ may decrease even while phenotypic IQ rises throughout the population due to environmental effects such as better nutrition and education. The Flynn effect may now have ended or reversed in some developed nations.

Studies find that while low IQ families have relatively more children, large families do not necessarily produce low IQ children. Some of the studies looking at relation between IQ and fertility cover the fertility of individuals who have attained a particular age, thereby ignoring positive correlation between IQ and survival. To make conclusions about effects on IQ of future populations, such effects would have to be taken into account. Recent research has shown that education and socioeconomic status are better indicators of fertility and suggests that the relationship between intelligence and number of children may be spurious. When controlling for education and socioeconomic status, the relationship between intelligence and number of children, intelligence and number of siblings, and intelligence and ideal number of children reduces to statistical insignificance. Among women, a post-hoc analysis revealed that the lowest and highest intelligence scores did not differ significantly by number of children. Other research suggest that siblings born farther apart achieve higher educational outcomes. Therefore, sibling density, not number of siblings, may explain the negative association between IQ and number of siblings.

Weiss in a 2009 study argues that for many nations the effect of fertility on IQ is currently overshadowed by the effects of selective immigration and emigration of groups with varying average IQs (brain drain and brain gain).

A study by the Institute of Psychiatry determined that men with higher IQ’s tend to have better quality sperm than lower IQ males, even when considering age and lifestyle, stating that the genes underlying intelligence may be multi-factored.

One Comment to “Fertility and Intelligence”

  1. Reblogged this on ObservationObligation and commented:
    The measurement of intelligence is flawed by IQ testing as critics have claimed. The Flynn effect could be simply explained by people getting better at IQ testing or at certain skills which are tested at IQ tests, for example abstract thinking. At university, I got taught how induction and deduction work. I can differentiate them and thus, I can differentiate a fallacy from a logical conclusion. Officially from now on, EVERY point I get on an IQ test in this section is down to my education, not my initial intelligence anymore. Furthermore, research also shows that intelligence is only down to 30% inherited, while the 70% are due to environmental and social factors.
    Besides, to conclude from performance at school to IQ seems implausible. Research also shows that gifted children will get too soon too bored with academia at primary school or secondary school and hence, will stop working.
    And this is only a very limited breadth of the criticisms of this research.

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