IQ decline and the Flynn effect
Cognitive ability is one of the strongest predictors in work performance. In a rapidly changing world with added complexity by the day (almost) it is of utterly importance for organizations to navigate in this increasingly complicated landscape. It is argued that the landscape changes so fast these days that all one can do is to adapt.
Several large corporations have turned to the business philosophy to “adapt”. Knowing that plans will rarely prevail due to constant change.
We can highly recommend Tim Harfords book “Adapt –Why success always starts with failure”.
It is therefore easy to argue the importance of cognitive ability in organizations. Obviously combined with Agreeableness and Openness (Five Factor Traits) in order to be “flexible” and contain the ability to adapt.
The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and crystallized intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day. Test score increases have been continuous and approximately linear from the earliest years of testing to the present. This annual increase in median scores have been attributed “The Flynn Effect”, due to James R Flynn who discovered the phenomena.
The Flynn Effect has been about 7 points per decade since the post war era.
This effect most likely is the effect of many, many complicated and correlated factors. But one suggestion to an answer has historically been that better nutrition and surrounding complexity (school, work and socially) have boosted the ability of the individual.
Can such an increase go on forever?
James R Flynn (2017) made another observation and that is that the IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered. Losses in the Nordic nations after 1995 average at 6.85 points when projected over thirty years. The US have sustained its historic gain by 0.3 points per year.
The Scandinavian data is somewhat difficult since it is mostly attributed to 18-19 year olds and they are too young for the world of work. But assuming that Nordic and US trends really differ, what social trends might foreshadow a general decline in Scandinavia prior to a decline in America. In Scandinavia the factors that have caused IQ gains may have exhausted their potency.
Flynn argues that the landscape of professional work has been polarized. Meaning that there are fewer cognitive demanding jobs today and more standardized jobs. (Automation is definitely a factor.) Using data from Richard Florida, Flynn argues that the ration between low skill and creative work has risen in favor of the former from 1.35 to one in 1990 going to 1.57 to one in 2012. US data shows that service work (low skilled work) has bumped from 39.3% in 1990 to 48.5% in 2012. Creative (high skilled) has bumped “only” from 29.3 in 1990 to 32.0 in 2012.
Flynn also argues that children in the modern era has drifted away from formal to concrete thinking. They are more and more immersed in visual and electronic culture that has decreased their attention span. A very important ability facing complicated problems.
IQ gains over time were never written in the sky as a eternal ongoing phenomena. They are subject to every twist and turn of social evolution. During the 21st century IQ scores with most likely continue to fall.
Stressing the importance of cognitive skilled individuals in your organization.