Posted on August 17, 2009

Why Doctors Are Not As Clever As They Used to Be

Steve Doughty, Daily Mail (London), August 2009

Leading professionals are becoming less intelligent, researchers said yesterday. Lawyers, doctors, accountants and bankers were all cleverer a generation ago, a study found.

The startling conclusion was reached by academics looking into social mobility. They wanted to find out why those born into poor families in the 1970s were much less successful than those born in the 1950s.

The research found that as poor children in the 1970s lost the chance of a good education–often blamed on the abolition of grammar schools–they were not able to reach the top professions.

Instead, the places were filled by those from wealthier families–who were not always as naturally gifted.

The researchers from Bristol University based their findings on IQ tests taken by ten and 11-year-olds as part of two major surveys into the lives of children born in 1958 and 1970.

They found a decline in IQ among those in the best-rewarded and highest-status professions between the two generations. It means professionals now in their 50s are likely to be brighter than those in their late 30s.

Ratings from the tests give someone of exactly average intelligence a score of 100, with broadly average intelligence running from 90 to 109. Between 110 and 140 is regarded as superior intelligence.

It found that lawyers born in 1958 had IQs about 10.5 per cent above the average when tested as children–in the superior bracket. But those born in 1970 had IQs nearer to 7.5 per cent above the norm, putting them into the average bracket.

Similarly, accountants from 1958 were nearly 10 per cent above average, but only 6 per cent above average in 1970.

Bankers’ IQs fell from 7.5 per cent above average to 6.5 per cent, while university lecturers dropped from 9 to 7.5 per cent above average. Doctors were 12.5 per cent above average in 1958, but 11 per cent above average in 1970.

A handful of professions showed that the 1970 generation were at the same level or more intelligent than their older colleagues.

These tended to be those of lesser status, with less clearly laid out career paths, or with more egalitarian traditions. They included nursing, science, engineering, art and journalism.

However, the researchers–led by Lindsey Macmillan from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University–offered a crumb of comfort to those who worry about whether their GP is up to the job.

‘Somewhat reassuringly,’ the study said, ‘doctors and scientists and other medical professionals exhibit the highest IQ test scores over time.’

Labour has consistently blamed the fall in social mobility on universities shutting out youngsters from less wealthy backgrounds.

But critics say the problem lies with comprehensive schools that fail to help poor pupils develop and achieve good grades.

They point out that the major difference between the two generations born in 1958 and 1970 is that the former were educated in the era of grammar schools.