IQ variations across time, race, and nationality: an artifact of differences in literacy skills

Psychol Rep. 2010 Jun;106(3):643-64. doi: 10.2466/PR0.106.3.643-664.


A body of data on IQ collected over 50 years has revealed that average population IQ varies across time, race, and nationality. An explanation for these differences may be that intelligence test performance requires literacy skills not present in all people to the same extent. In eight analyses, population mean full scale IQ and literacy scores yielded correlations ranging from .79 to .99. In cohort studies, significantly larger improvements in IQ occurred in the lower half of the IQ distribution, affecting the distribution variance and skewness in the predicted manner. In addition, three Verbal subscales on the WAIS show the largest Flynn effect sizes and all four Verbal subscales are among those showing the highest racial IQ differences. This pattern of findings supports the hypothesis that both secular and racial differences in intelligence test scores have an environmental explanation: secular and racial differences in IQ are an artifact of variation in literacy skills. These findings suggest that racial IQ distributions will converge if opportunities are equalized for different population groups to achieve the same high level of literacy skills. Social justice requires more effective implementation of policies and programs designed to eliminate inequities in IQ and literacy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bias
  • Blacks / psychology*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests / statistics & numerical data*
  • Intelligence*
  • Male
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Environment
  • Social Justice
  • United States
  • Wechsler Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Whites / psychology*
  • Young Adult