Are Rich people Smarter?

While individuals with higher incomes typically score higher on IQ tests, this relationship reaches a plateau. In fact, the top 1% of earners is actually less intelligent than the group directly below them. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that the wealthiest individuals are also the most intelligent, according to the researchers.

Impressive Data

The researchers had a unique dataset at their disposal, which allowed them to investigate the relationship between income and intelligence in unprecedented detail. In Sweden, every 18- and 19-year-old must take an intelligence test as part of the country’s mandatory military service, and their income is also recorded. “This wealth of data makes it possible to investigate whether an extremely high income is an indicator of extreme intelligence,” says sociology professor Marc Keuschnigg. “To do this, we needed reliable income figures that covered the whole range of salaries. Top incomes are often missing from research data, but our population registers provide complete insight into the incomes of all citizens.”

Remarkably, the wealthiest 1% of Swedes scored lower on intelligence tests than the income group directly below them. This is significant because the top 1% earns an exorbitant amount of money, twice as much as the top 2-3%.

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about increasing income inequality. When interventions threaten to reduce top incomes, those who earn them defend themselves by saying that their unique talents justify their high salaries. However, when it comes to an important dimension of talent – intelligence – the study finds no evidence that those with top jobs, who earn too much money, have more abilities than those who earn only half as much.


The researchers say that most people receive a salary that matches their cognitive abilities. However, this does not apply to the top earners, nor does it apply to status professions, an alternative measure of professional success. Doctors, accountants, lawyers, professors, and parliamentarians are not necessarily smarter than those in less prestigious jobs.

As the highest earners continue to earn more, an increasing portion of total income is spent in a way that is not related to cognitive abilities, the researchers conclude

There are some limitations to the study. Firstly, other traits such as perseverance, appearance, or background are important factors in achieving wealth. Secondly, the study only examined men. Finally, the research took place in Sweden, a relatively egalitarian country. In other countries where higher education is less accessible to everyone, the difference between cognitive abilities and income could be even greater. For intelligent children from lower social classes in countries such as the UK, it may be more difficult to achieve high incomes because of the lack of access to education and opportunities.