2014 May 14 Wednesday
Lake Woebegone America, Where Most Are Above Average

Why did our ancestors ever give the proles the vote? What were they thinking? Most Americans think that they are smarter than the average person, while richer Americans are more likely than others to say that the country as a whole is unintelligent. The richer people are correct of course.

The latest results from YouGov show that most Americans (55%) think that they are smarter than the average American - meaning that the average American thinks that they are smarter than the average American. A third of the country (34%) say that they are about as smart as the average person, while only 4% say that they are less intelligent than average Americans. People with higher levels of educational attainment say that they are smarter than most Americans, with fully 51% of people with post-graduate degrees saying that they are 'much more intelligent' than the average American.

Most people aren't smart enough to realize how dumb they are. David Dunning and Justin Kruger, social psychology researchers, have gathered evidence about how much the incompetents are unable to realize how clueless they are.

This is a big problem in the workplace and in politics. The less able people in the workplace think they are being discriminated against. Whereas they are less productive or counter-productive. They vote for candidates who will tell them it is not their fault. Plus, we have low paid left wing commentators who certainly think people like them deserve more and that people who make more money deserve less.

This problem is getting worse as the less bright make more babies.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 May 14 09:10 PM 

WJ said at May 14, 2014 10:28 PM:

"Most Americans think that they are smarter than the average person, while richer Americans are more likely than others to say that the country as a whole is unintelligent."

Intelligence is relative. Americans (at least European- and Asian-Americans) are quite intelligent compared to the populations of most countries. So the rich are wrong if they're comparing Americans to the world. Even American blacks and Hispanics tend to be smarter than blacks and Hispanics in other countries.

And I suspect there are far more people with genetic defects which drag down their intelligence significantly than there are with genetic gifts that make them exceptionally smart. That means that "average" intelligence is below the median, meaning that it's possible (if not probable) for 55% of Americans to be above average, just as it's possible for 19 people in a coffee shop to have less than the average net worth of customers in the coffee shop if the 20th customer is Bill Gates.

Black Sea said at May 15, 2014 5:52 AM:

I see this every year when I have to do performance evaluations for my department. People who don't get the highest ranking are truly baffled as to why. After resisting this notion for a few years, I've come to believe that they really can't see the difference in value of their own work and that of other, more effective people.

When they want to know how to get a higher evaluation, what do you tell them, "be more creative"? They'll set out on a lot of of ill-conceived, time-wasting projects in an attempt to do so. "Take more initiative"? They'll try to take initiative on a project, utterly unaware of what is the most efficient course of action, the most pragmatic approach to prioritizing tasks, the best way to get the work done well.

When they fail in these undertakings, they will argue that you told them to be more creative and take more inniative, and that's what they did, and now you're not rewarding them for it. What it amounts to, but what you can't say, is "You see that guy over there, the one who won an award for innovation, he's just a lot brighter than you, and he can do stuff you won't ever be able to do, and there's nothing you can do to change that."

The sad truth.

bbartlog said at May 15, 2014 7:52 AM:

Voting is a relief valve, too, you know. If democracy were just about smart people making the Right Decisions, you might as well restrict the franchise to some tiny fraction of highly intelligent people. But it's also about making sure that people exert themselves to get their guy elected, rather than spend that energy rioting in the streets or planting bombs...

B.B. said at May 15, 2014 2:10 PM:

Maybe I am missing something here.

Half the population have above-average intelligence. If we poll a large sample of randomly selected Americans, and if they perceive accurately, half of them (50%) should say they have above-average intelligence. They would be correct.

So if 55% say they have above-average intelligence, it isn't all that far from the right answer.

Moreover, I think it unlikely that an opinion poll sampled the lower tail of the distribution; profoundly unintelligent people were probably not asked their opinion. With that bias in the sample, it may well be that 55% of the sampled people do have intelligence higher than the true average of the American population.

Trey said at May 15, 2014 8:09 PM:

Wasn't it the "elites" who sold out and destroyed the country? The so-called "proles" were generally in favor of tariffs, good wages, strong borders and nationalism.

Randall Parker said at May 15, 2014 9:44 PM:


34% think they are as smart as the average person. So you have 89% who think they are at the 50th percentile or above.

3% think they are slightly less intelligent than average and 1% think they are much less intelligent. So the dumb people do not know they are dumb.


In my mind I separate the elites from the upper middle class. Most of the people making, say, $100k aren't promoting policies that will ruin the country.

Black Sea,

So many things go into making a highly productive person. The lazies also don't want to admit they don't work hard. I see so many different attributes influencing how productive people are. Many less productive people are blind to their own deficiencies. Whiners usually fall into this bucket.

A person needs an IQ of at least 120 to function as a medical doctor, scientist, or engineer. A serious management position is out of the range of a 110 IQ person (though fast food restaurant shift manager would certainly be possible with just 110 IQ).

James Bowery said at May 17, 2014 7:52 PM:

The funny thing is, if you go to a small town in Minnesota and look at their standardized test scores, they probably _will_ be above the national average -- nearly to the student.

At least that was the case when I was growing up in Iowa just to the south of Lake Wobegon. There's been a huge genetic hit on the population here -- and I don't mean just immigrants for low IQ nations -- I mean a brain drain into the erocidal urban areas.

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