Smarter People Live Longer, Study Finds
Nerds may have yet another reason to feel superior: They might live longer.
A longitudinal study finds that smart kids may live longer than their peers. While educational attainment has previously been linked to living longer [PDF], it may not all be about how much time you spend in school. Your IQ matters, too.
In 1932, almost 2800 10- and 11-year-olds in Aberdeen, Scotland sat down for an IQ test as part of a national survey. Recently, a mental health specialist at the University of Aberdeen and a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh tracked down as many of these kids as they could find, trying to figure out how long they lived and how that might correlate with the results of their IQ tests.
Using public records, they traced 2230 people of the original participants (nearly 80 percent) and compared their mental abilities in childhood to whether they were still alive in 1997, at the age of 76. They found that people who performed better on the test at age 11 were more likely to live to age 75. The effect was more significant for women than for men, though that might be due to the fact that this cohort served in World War II, and the men in the group who died in the war tended to have a relatively high average IQ.
For women, an 11-point disadvantage in IQ score lowered the chances of living up to the age of 76 below the 75 percent rate. Having a 30-point lower IQ made someone only half as likely to survive until the age of 76 as someone with an average IQ.
Why a higher IQ might help you survive longer is still unknown. An IQ test is not an absolute measure of native intelligence, as Scientific American points out. A test taker's performance, for example, can be influenced by how well they expect to do, and some research indicates that IQ test results can be shaped by social and economic factors. It's possible that a higher IQ at 11 reflects societal advantages that lead to better health, like better childhood nutrition. Being a little quicker might also catapult you into a safer work environment—a desk job instead of a factory job.
In addition, this study only tested kids born in 1921 and living in Scotland, so it’s possible that IQ might have a different impact on the mortality rates of kids born in a different place and time, with different job opportunities and health risks.