10 July 2010

Breeding Stupidity

What is the average Sri Lankan IQ? Two recent global studies of the relationship between IQ and other important national statistics (popular religiosity and national disease burden) both include Sri Lanka among the countries studied. Naturally, both studies give a figure for mean national IQ. I confess I don’t know how far we should trust these figures, but I don’t see any reason for discounting them altogether.

IQ is, I know, a controversial statistic. There is massive disagreement about whether it is a fair measure of intelligence or whether, indeed, it measures anything at all. Its origin in eugenics makes it suspect – and scandalously, black people tend to do worse on IQ tests than whites. Less scandalously (since they didn’t invent the tests), East Asians do better than either. All this is worth remembering, yet there is no other measure of general intelligence that works as well as IQ, and it correlates to other measures of intelligence too. Perhaps intelligence cannot be measured at all; yet IQ tests certainly measure something like intelligence.

With all these caveats in hand, then, what do the statistics tell us? The IQ-vs.-religiosity study uses data from a famous and controversial book, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, and it puts the average Sri Lankan IQ at 81.

This is pretty shocking. However, it’s probably an extension of the figure for India, which is the kind of thing the authors of that book did quite a bit of. The more recent Economist study gives figures of 82 for India and – more shockingly yet – 79 for Sri Lanka. This puts Sri Lanka on par with Nepal as the lowest-IQ countries in the non-black world.

Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. The Sri Lankan environment actively selects for - that is to say, breeds - stupidity. Here's how.

  • Because life here is nearly unbearable for an intelligent person, and prospects are so poor, the brightest Sri Lankans of every generation emigrate, taking their genes (IQ, like intelligence itself, is strongly heritable) out of the pool. This has been happening without pause since a few years before Independence – a matter of three generations now.
  • The society they leave behind is one that has evolved to nurture and celebrate stupidity, while intelligence and originality are penalized at every turn. Tradition, religion and caste all load the dice against independent thinking and creativity; you can’t even record a new version of the National Anthem without being accused of disrespect to the nation. So intelligent people prosper less than stupid conformists, have fewer children and perpetuate their genes less.
  • Arranged marriage, which works against the natural tendency of intelligent people to marry one another and produce intelligent offspring, is widely practised.

In fairness, it must be said that other South Asian countries are not a great deal better than Sri Lanka when it comes to average national IQ. This does not surprise me: the same driving-away of the most intelligent in every generation, the same coddling of stupidity through religion, caste and ‘the way we do things here’, is as evident in these countries as in Sri Lanka.
India, of course, is changing fast. But will Sri Lanka? From a Ceylonese perspective, the prospect doesn’t look good.

Map source


  1. So true. Marcus and I talk about this all the time. How people just get stupider and stupider.

    I'm so happy you have a blog!

  2. What's your IQ?

  3. do you have kids?

  4. Having lived in Sri Lanka for over 2 years, I have had to say to my child not to repeat the phrase 'Sri Lankans are stupid' that I occasionally mutter to myself.

    I work with intelligent, wonderful people, which gives lie to that as a general statement.

    That said, by god there are some stupid people in this country.

    It is simply amazing how stupid people can be, whether working in shops, driving on the roads, on in a customer service position.

    Imagine a store where there are 11 staff, of them 10 people doing nothing, and only 1 of them is allowed to do 1 thing, very slowly.

    Maddeningly useless.

    You could say its a good place to come for a holiday, because you'll quickly leave before realising how thick much of the population is and it becomes a problem for you.

    Not only thick, but arrogantly proud of it too.

  5. I have a friend named Haafiz. He's sri lankan too and trust me that guy is soo retarded. His IQ is probably lower than an average sri lankan