Tag Archives: the impact of poverty on IQ

Looking at IQ and learning if the level of intelligence has anything to do with success in life [Viewed as Single Page]

Over on Diane Ravitch’s Blog, a site to discuss better education for all [highly recommended], I left a comment for one of her posts that mentioned an author’s lecture I attended back in the 1980s. The comment was about a memoir written by the father of a son who was retarded [the father/author’s words not mine]. The son also had learning disabilities.  After more than thirty years, all I remembered was the basics and I think the father said his son had an IQ of 80 [I could be wrong. It might have been lower]. I’ve forgotten the name of the author and his memoir. I once had a video of the lecture but loaned it to another teacher who loaned it to another teacher and I never saw the video again.

Anyway, the anonymous person who replied to my comment didn’t think the kid was retarded with an 80 IQ, and it turns out this anonymous commenter was right.  He also said 80 wasn’t far from average—also correct.

I attended that lecture more than thirty years ago, and the son did have learning disabilities severe enough to land him in special education classes. The parents had to fight to get him in regular classes. They also unplugged the TV at home and stored it on a shelf in the garage where it sat until both of their children were in college. The TV was replaced with family reading time. The result, the son ended up at Harvard and graduated with a degree in engineering.

The Stanford-Binet Fifth Edition IQ Classification [it’s obvious that the language has been changed to placate critics of IQ tests—check out older versions of IQ tests to see what I mean]:

40-54: Moderately impaired or delayed
55-69: Mildly impaired or delayed
70-79: Borderline impaired or delayed
80-89: Low average
90-109: Average
110-119: High average
120-129: Superior
130-144: Gifted or very advanced
145-160: Very gifted or highly advanced

There’s also the Current Wechsler IQ classification; the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Cognitive Abilities; the Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Intelligence Test, etc.

I don’t want to spend much time on learning disabilities [LD], because I want to focus on the small fire that I seemed to have started when I brought up IQ on Ravitch’s Blog. But  LD’s should be mentioned because they may affect children with even high IQ’s. The home environment, lifestyle, health, diet and exercise also play an important role in a child’s ability to learn.

LD’s are a group of varying disorders that have a negative impact on learning. They may affect a child’s [or adults] ability to speak, listen, think, read, write, spell or compute. The most prevalent LD is in the area of reading, known as dyslexia, and as  child I had severe dyslexia; so did my older brother, but the education experts didn’t know what dyslexia was in the early 1950s. Instead, my mother was told that I was so retarded I would never learn to read or write. Years later when I took my first IQ test, the results said I had an IQ of 135, and it’s obvious that I overcame the dyslexia and learned to read and write, but my brother didn’t.

It seems that one politically-correct camp in the United States and maybe Europe—because I have no idea where the critics of IQ live—believe we shouldn’t use IQ to measure a child’s intelligence. In fact, this politically correct group wants IQ removed as a way to measure intelligence probably because it might hurt the child self-esteem. In fact, the politically correct self-esteem movement would like to do away with all competition, grades and GPA ranking. They’ve had some success in this area—one of the causes of dumbing down the schools in the United States.

I don’t disagree with evidence from studies that offer theories that even slow learners with lower IQ’s may achieve success in life but it’s arguable that the lower the IQ, the tougher the odds are of a child achieving their dreams as an adult later in life depending on what those dreams are—after all, few end up becoming President of the United States—and for instance: billionaires, millionaires, rocket scientists, super models, Academy Award winning actors, Grammy winners, or win gold medals at the Olympics.

While a high IQ is not a ticket to success and wealth, the evidence suggests that it helps. It’s also arguable that a person with a high IQ who also has high social intelligence (SQ/SI) stands a much better chance at success and a better quality of life than someone with a low IQ and high SQ/SI. Other factors that lead to the success of a child achieving their dreams later as an adult are motivation, discipline, perseverance, the ability to learn from failure, and evidence suggests that writing detailed goals and reading those goals daily also helps. There’s also emotional intelligence that some think is important. (

My biggest sin to the politically correct camp of self-esteem was to dare to mention the difference in average IQ’s between racial groups. The word one commenter used was racism. However, the fact remains that there is a difference in average IQ’s between racial groups. says, “The connection between race and intelligence has been a subject of debate in both popular science and academic research since the inception of intelligence testing in the early 20th century, particularly in the United States.” Forgive me if I don’t post that IQ comparison here. If interested, Google it.

Be warned, if you dare to step on this politically correct sacred ground that has been anointed by the holy water of the self-esteem movement, tread carefully.

However, it is arguable that IQ does play an important role in success and it’s not racist to say so. Instead of looking at IQ by race, we may also compare average IQ by country with the highest average IQ found in Asia where the top five are located: Hong Kong #1; South Korea #2; Japan #3; Taiwan #4, and Singapore #5. Those who argue that IQ tests are flawed because they were created by Caucasians in Europe/the United States, take note of the top five.

The United States is ranked #19 [tied with Hungry, Poland, Spain, Austria, Denmark, France, Mongolia, and Norway] with an average IQ of 98 and Finland is #25 with an average IQ of 97.

The ten countries with the lowest average IQ are all in Africa. Equatorial Guinea is the lowest with an average of 59. (Statistic and Nation

Using IQ as an indication of the odds of success may be measured from other comparisons besides race.

First—Let’s look at income (World Top Incomes Database; Real U.S. 2010 dollars):

Psychology reports, The average IQ of individuals in the top 1% who earned $857,477  was 137.  The next level was the top .1% with an average income of $3,693,111 and an average IQ of 149.  Then we have the top .01% earning on average $16,267,243 with an average IQ of 160.

The other 99 percent with an annual income range of $0 to $335,869 had IQ’s—on average—that ranged from 60 to 136.

Second—a few examples of the average IQ of college majors:

The average IQ of a Physics and Astronomy major was 133; Mathematics Sciences 130; Engineering 126; Chemistry 124; Humanities & Arts 120; Agriculture 115; Health and Medical Sciences 111; Education 110, and Social Work 103. For the complete list, I suggest you click on Statistics

Third—Number of billionaires by continent in US dollars:

Africa has 13 (population of 995 million—1 for every 76.5 million people)

Asia 412 (4.14 billion—1 for every 10.048 million)

Europe 390 (739 million—1 for every 1.89 million)

North America 486 (529 million—1 for every 1.088 million)

South America 51 (386 million—1 for every 7.56 million)

Four— Poverty and low IQ: says, “The effect of environment on the IQ of young children can be significant, particularly for children living in poverty. As the influence of poverty decreases, the importance of environmental conditions as a limiting factor on intelligence also decreases. By addressing the environmental issues created by poverty, it may be possible to weaken the link between low socioeconomic status and poor student performance on IQ (and other) tests.”

“A childhood spent in poverty often sets the stage for a lifetime of setbacks. Secure attachments and stable environments, so vitally important to the social and emotional development of young children, are often denied to our neediest kids. These children experience more stress due to loneliness, aggression, isolation, and deviance in their peer relationships, and they are more likely to describe feeling deprived, embarrassed, picked on, or bullied. As a result, they more often face future struggles in marital and other relationships.” ( says) says, “It is posited that low IQ children may be likely to engage in delinquent behavior because their poor verbal abilities limit their opportunities to obtain rewards in the school environment.”

Leading from the says, “Signs of poor EQ include the inability to listen to others, defensiveness, unawareness of how we come across, lack of sensitivity to others’ feelings, an inability to deal constructively with conflict, a drive to control others, narcissism, and the need to have our own way.”

Conclusion: The evidence suggests that average to high IQ—when a child lives in a middle income or higher environment with stable parents—does have a vital role to play in later success, but IQ by itself isn’t enough to predict outcomes.

It is also possible, but rare, for a child to escape poverty as an adult. The odds are also against children with IQ’s lower than average.

In the end—no matter the IQ; SQ; EQ or LDs—parent involvement is the key that overcomes almost all obstacles to a child’s education. A key study in the UK says:” Overall, research has consistently shown that parental involvement in children’s education does make a positive difference to pupils’ achievement.” (

Based on 49 studies, It is noted that the bulk of the research finds that a positive learning environment at home has a powerful impact on student achievement. The second approach is illustrated by Rhoda Becher’s extensive review of parent education literature, which finds numerous studies documenting effects of school-based programs that train low-income parents to work with their children. Effects include significantly improved language skills, test performance, and school behavior, as well as important effects on the general educational process. The third approach is illustrated by studies of community involvement which suggest that the degree of parent and community interest in high quality education is the critical factor in the impact of the school environment on the achievement and educational aspirations of students. (

When the parents are not part of the learning process; are dysfunctional and/or abusive, the odds are against success no matter what teachers do in the classroom.


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to kill Americans.

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