Business Insider Edition

9 ways we're becoming smarter than ever before

Janaki Jitchotvisut , Business Insider US
 May 21, 2019, 10:35 AM
A student in Ms. Newman''s third grade class works on a problem during summer school July 3, 2001 at Brentano Academy in Chicago.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
  • People seem to believe that the world population is getting less intelligent.
  • More people are getting a formal education.
  • People feel better informed.
  • For more, go to Business Insider SA.

There have been countless articles and hot takes about younger generations, technology, and apparent dwindling intelligence.

But despite what you've heard, there is a lot of evidence that people are smarter and more well-educated than ever before. We rounded up some of the biggest examples.

Just a note that there are many ways to measure intelligence, and though IQ tests and formal education are some, intelligence is not limited to the factors on this list.


First, here are Pew’s definitions of each age group for clarity.

The Silent and Greatest Generations are those born before 1946, while Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Meanwhile, Gen X spans those born between 1965 and 1980, Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, and Gen Z was born between 1997 and 2012.

It's worth noting that other research organisations may define the start and end points of generations slightly differently - and that only Boomers have been officially defined with start and end years by the US Census Bureau.


More people are getting a formal education.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Not only are more people pursuing higher education, but more people are also pursuing an education period.

Enrollment in primary school has increased dramatically over the last century, the amount of hours spent in school has increased, and, in general, the world is far more educated than ever before, according to our World in Data.


More of the millennial cohort has achieved higher education than previous generations.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of millennials who have obtained a bachelor's degree or higher is about 39% of the total group, compared with 29% of Gen Xers and 15% of the Silent Generation at the same age.


Gen Z — or post-millennials — are pursuing university at even greater rates than millennials.

Comparing the number of 18 to 20-year-olds of each generation who enrolled in college, Pew found that 59% of post-millennials were pursuing higher education degrees in 2017.

In 2002, just 53% of millennials were doing the same, and only 44% of Gen Xers followed through on the promise of higher education in 1986.


The literacy rate is up.

The global literacy rate has skyrocketed over the past 50 years. In 1960 it was 42% and in 2015 it essentially doubled to 86%.

Though literacy does remain a problem, it is one issue that has seen exponential growth in the last 50 years.


Our IQs appear to be going up.

In general, our IQs have been increasing since the turn of the 20th century and have been increasing at a rate of about three points per decade, according to Our World in Data. In fact, the average IQ of people today by 1920s standards (130) makes us smarter than 98% of the population at that time.

It's worth noting that this rise in IQ has been hotly debated, and other studies show that the upward trend is now decreasing in some parts of the world. IQ also isn't a perfect measure of intelligence, so take this with a grain of salt.


Both Gen Z and Millennials see links between human activity and climate change.

Pew reported in 2017 that more than half of Gen Zers and millennials think that climate change is a problem exacerbated by human activity - 56% of millennials and 54% of Gen Z, respectively.

Meanwhile, the further back you go generationally, the more likely you are to see individuals who believe climate change is due to natural patterns, that there is no evidence that the planet is getting warmer, or are simply unsure what to believe.

To be clear, there is irrefutable scientific evidence that the climate is changing and it is because of human activity.


According to the Federal Reserve, it’s not that millennials don’t want to buy homes and new cars — it’s that they don’t want to buy what they can’t afford.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In a November 2018 paper released by the US Federal Reserve and authored by Christopher Kurz, Geng Li, and Daniel J. Vine, the Fed came to the not very surprising conclusion that millennials are spending less money because they have less money to spend in the first place.

There are several reasons this is the case: Hitting adulthood during the Great Recession - which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, according to Investopedia - was a big factor. Rising costs of healthcare, education, and life in general have also played a role, according to the Fed.

At the Atlantic, writer Derek Thompson added that housing costs for existing single-family homes have risen exponentially all over the country between 1988 and 2017. That's not even necessarily accounting for the steepest rises in certain extremely expensive metropolitan areas like San Francisco, where the current median home value index is a cool $1,353,500 (R19 million) according to Zillow.

Though this seems to paint a bleak financial picture, it does bode well for financial literacy. Since well-worn advice passed down through generations usually tells us to not spend money we don't have, it sounds from these facts like millennials have the right idea.


More people have access to the internet than ever before.

In 2018, more than half the world's population used the internet. Although it's not clear that the internet has any direct correlation to intelligence, having access to the internet can provide learning opportunities, access to information, and business opportunities.


People feel better informed.

Much has been said about the pros and cons of social media and our increased access to news and information on the internet. Though it may feel overwhelming at times, generally, people in the US feel more informed thanks to the internet, according to research by Pew. In fact, 75% of people say they feel more informed about the news thanks to the internet and their cell phones.

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