Lesson From Norway: More Years in School Means a Higher IQ


The relationship between education and IQ is difficult to pin down, but new research shows an additional year of school is equal to 3.7 points.

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Is IQ innate or learned? Some experts argue that IQ is not affected by education, while others feel that a child's educational experiences absolutely have an effect on his or her IQ. A new study suggests that IQ can indeed be influenced by one's education, even up through the teenage years.

The relationship between IQ and education is very difficult to pin down scientifically. One might discover that the more education a person has, the higher his or her IQ, but what's the reason behind this? Did the education make the person's IQ higher, or did the person start out with a higher IQ and seek out more education because of it?

Scientists caught a break with an educational reform in Norway making it mandatory for children to remain in school for nine years rather than seven. The reform, which took effect in the 1960s made it possible for researchers to see if the added schooling had an effect on IQ.

Researchers followed men who were born in the 1950s, and looked at how much education they had completed at age 30. They also took note of their IQs, since all draft-eligible men were given tests by the Norwegian military at age 19. They compared IQ scores for participants who were in school both before and after the reform took place.

The average difference in IQ before and after the education reform was 0.6 IQ points. Though this difference sounds negligible, it is statistically significant, meaning that it is unlikely to be due to chance. The boost in IQ gained by an additional year of school, they calculated, was 3.7 points -- also a significant jump.

The study offers some good evidence that education continued relatively late into development (the mid-teen years) could affect IQ. The authors do point out that the study should not be taken as evidence that the well-demonstrated early childhood experiences are any less important to cognitive development and to IQ.

More research will be needed to determine the complex relationship between IQ, education, and other developmental experiences. In the meantime, it won't hurt to give your kids the richest intellectual, social, and educational experiences you can, since they all play important roles in cognitive development.

The research was carried out by a team at the University of Oslo and Harvard University and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Image: Flashon StudioShutterstock.

This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

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