Rindermann: The Intelligence of Nations

When Lynn and Van Vanhanen’s “IQ and the Wealth of Nations'” came out, it was dismissed by many and, not unexpectedly, it received a number of hostile reviews. As Lynn notes:

These national IQs have evoked both interest and criticism. Some sceptics have dismissed them as “highly deficient” (Volken, 2003, p.411), “virtually meaningless” (Barnett & Williams, 2004, p.392), “technically inadequate…and meaningless” (Hunt & Sternberg 2006, pp. 133,136). For others, the calculation of national IQs has opened up a new field in which intelligence has explanatory power for a wide range of social phenomena. The calculation of national IQs and their correlates have been described by Rindermann and Ceci (2009, p. 551) as “a new development in the study of cognitive ability: following a century of conceptual and psychometric development in which individual and group (socioeconomic, age, and ethnic) differences were examined, researchers have turned their attention to national and international differences in cognitive competence. The goal is to use cognitive differences to understand and predict national differences” — Lynn, 2010. National IQs calculated and validated for 108 nations

As a result, Rindermann’s 2007 paper, which corroborated Lynn and Vanhanen’s IQs by showing that the IQs correlated strongly with PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS scores, caused quite a stir.

From: Rindermann, 2007. The g-factor of international cognitive ability comparisons: The homogeneity of results in PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS and IQ-tests across nations

International cognitive ability and achievement comparisons stem from different research traditions. But analyses at the interindividual data level show that they share a common positive manifold. Correlations of national ability means are even higher to very high (within student assessment studies, r¼.60–.98; between different student assessment studies [PISA-sum with TIMSS-sum] r¼.82–.83; student assessment sum with intelligence tests, r¼.85–.86). Results of factor analyses indicate a strong g-factor of differences between nations (variance explained by the first unrotated factor: 94–95%). Causes of the high correlations are seen in the similarities of tests within studies, in the similarities of the cognitive demands for tasks from different tests, and in the common developmental factors at the individual and national levels including known environmental and unknown genetic influences.

This paper elicited quite a few comments from the major researches in the field — Ceci, Williams, Flynn, Hunt, Wicherts, Sternberg, Lynn, Rushton, Meisenberg, Weiss, etc. Below are a few of Rindermann’s responses:

Stipulation about inferences

Prenzel and Walter pointed out that high correlations between variables do not imply that the two variables represent the same phenomenon, with examples taken from medical research (body size and body weight; or from meteorology: lightning and thunder). These pairs of variables are highly correlated, but they represent different theoretical concepts and empirical phenomena. In agreeing with this position, I note that we need task and cognitive analyses, analyses of the cognitive demands of items and the problem solving processes used for answering them to determine the content validity of both intelligence and student assessment scales. This is an important topic for future research, and there already exist some studies investigating this within the large-scale assessment tradition (e.g. Woschek, 2005).

Meaning of Intelligence

Helfrich and Hunt have referred to the possible cultural relativity of intelligence concepts: ‘What is considered as ‘‘intelligent’’ refers to the successful adaptation to those cognitive tasks which are significant within a specific culture’ (Helfrich). ‘It can be argued that intelligence, as evaluated by these tests, is a Western concept, and that the abilities evaluated by the tests may not be the ones valued by non-western societies’ (Hunt). Yet, both authors understand (as I do) intelligence as a cognitive ability. Non-cognitive behaviours such as relying on tradition and listening to the elderly (as in some concepts in African cultures) are not included.

If others or other cultures use the word ‘intelligence’ to refer to different or opposite concepts, it would help to use other terms (e.g. ‘traditionalism’ or ‘traditionality’). Finally, an etymological analysis of the term ‘intelligence’ (see Rindermann, 2007a) shows that Latin intellegentia and intellegere (inter-legere) and Greek legein and logos stand for rational ways of thinking and understanding the world. The development of this idea seems to be interdependent with autonomy, rule of law and (at least mental) liberty.

Meaning of National Intelligence

Several comments deal with the meaning of the aggregated intelligence and knowledge v data (Bosker, Brunner & Romain, Volken). Volken retorted: ‘Macro-level entities cannot be intelligent, unless one is referring to intelligence metaphorically’. Of course, the mean intelligence per passenger of a car is not the intelligence of the car. Basically, national cognitive-ability levels can have two meanings: (a) the means of individuals within those nations, (b) the levels of intelligence of the nations themselves (of institutions like rational bureaucracies, universities, etc.). The preferred meaning here is the means of individuals within those nations.

Possible Causes

Possible causes were systematised by Meisenberg: ‘There are three possible causes for the covariance of IQ and school achievement across countries: differences in national school systems, differences in the non-school environment and genetic differences between human populations. All three possibilities are theoretically plausible and are at least somewhat supported by empiric evidence’.

From: Rindermann (2007) Relevance of education and intelligence at the national level
for the economic welfare of people

Mean cognitive abilities differ greatly between countries (Fig. 1). The East Asia region has the highest cognitive ability scores, including Taiwan (first), Singapore (second), China (third), South Korea (fourth), Hong Kong (fifth) and Japan (sixth). Second are North-, West- and Central-Europe and the countries which have been settled by these Europeans: Finland (seventh), Netherlands (ninth), Canada (tenth), Great Britain (eleventh), Iceland (twelfth), Switzerland (13th), Austria (15th), New Zealand (16th), Sweden (17th), Australia (18th), Belgium (20th), Norway (21st), USA (23rd), France (24th), Germany (25th) and Denmark (27th). Medium results are achieved for South and East Europe (here the highest results are for: Italy with 14th and Czech Republic with 19th rank) and low results for Latin America (here the highest rank is for Uruguay with 55th).

Scores are low in the Muslim Middle East and even lower in sub-Saharan Africa. With one exception, all of the 34 lowest-scoring countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. The exception is Haiti (185th, data were estimated by Lynn and Vanhanen by using test results from Jamaica, estimated intelligence test data were corrected down by 5 points), a country with a population and culture similar to sub-Saharan Africa. Even some countries with good economic development and relatively stable democracy and rule of law, for example Botswana (138th) and South Africa (155th), score low on measures of cognitive ability. Intervention studies using formal education or training have demonstrated an unused potential for cognitive improvement in these countries (Skuy et al., 2002). Extremely rich Arab countries such as Kuwait (100th) score no better than poor Arab countries (Lebanon, 93rd; Iran, 81st). Regions with low cognitive abilities, including sub-Saharan Africa and the Muslim Middle East, seem to be prone to cultural and social crisis (see UNDP, 2003; UNESCO, 2004). Low political power and political instability are associated with low cognitive ability.


The education–intelligence relationship is presumably reciprocal: schooling raises intelligence, and intelligent people realize the advantages to be gained through a better education. This does not negate the importance of other factors for cognitive development. Prosperity (Fig. 5) and genes (Rushton & Jensen, 2005) are all likely to contribute also to intelligence differences between nations and groups.

Modern societies would be impossible without a high level of cognitive abilities. Conversely, high intelligence would not develop without this complexity. The 20th century has seen near-exponential advances in science and technology, massive increases in the complexity of commercial enterprises and government bureaucracies and, perhaps most important, a vast expansion of the school system (Meyer, Ramirez, & Soysal, 1992; Schofer & Meyer, 2005). This has been accompanied by large IQ gains, which have been in excess of 3 points per decade in many countries during much of the 20th century (Flynn, 1987). Thus cognitive development and cultural modernization are intimately associated (Oesterdiekhoff, 2000). It has been proposed that the unusual developments of the past one or two centuries are based on positive feedback loops in which increased and better school education, technological advances and rising prosperity raised intelligence, and rising intelligence entailed further advances in technology, prosperity and the school system (Meisenberg, Lawless, Lambert, & Newton, 2005; Meisenberg, in press).

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3 Responses to Rindermann: The Intelligence of Nations

  1. Pingback: The C-factor of Groups « Occidental Ascent

  2. Pingback: Epigenetics, Neo-Lysenkoisianism, and the New Cultural Wars « Occidental Ascent

  3. Pingback: An Idiot’s Guide to the Hereditarian Hypothesis « Occidental Ascent

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