The Flynn Effect – Or Why We Really Are Smarter Than Our Parents

Posted on Posted in Blog

Every child has had the experience of considering their parents to be so awfully dumb; the joke is that as we get older we realise how smart they actually are and that it is our own limited capacities as children which do not permit us to see their intellect.

Except, what if our parents actually are dumb? I am not talking of the accumulation of knowledge, of which of course the more experienced person will have more; I am talking of the fundamental cognitive capacities which allow us to think and to reason.

It turns out that this is no mere suspicion but is an observable and consistent fact measured over generations. And it is no small change either! Over 60 years the average IQ of children has risen in some countries and particular cases by as much as 20 points; as Stefan Molyneux has pointed out this if this is an increase from, say 100 points to 120 this is not merely a 20 percent increase but is an asymptotic increase. Which is to say very simply that a 20 point increase is several orders smarter than the original number!

So it turns out that our parents actually aren’t dumb after all, but we are getting much smarter year by year.

The effect is so far unsatisfactorily explained; it is too rapid an increase to be genetic changes and too significant an increase to be attributed solely to improved learning environments. One idea is that the greater quantity and variety of stimuli in the digital age have had a far greater effect on intelligence than we may have thought.

A Warning Too

So we can legitimately say that we are smarter than our parents; it is a good explanation for why each generation has greater freedoms, fewer prejudices and less violence than previous generations. It may also explain why talking to our parents sometimes feels harder than it ought to.

But it is no reason to succumb to hubris; if the trend continues (and there is no reason at this point to think it won’t), then our children will be many, many times smarter than us, and will look at us as simple-minded children; they will be amazed by the injustices we perpetrated through ignorance and bemused at our infantile grasp on many aspects of knowledge and science and reasoning – just as we are baffled at the “logic” behind slavery.

A sobering thought!


Just a short one today. I expect to write a lot more about this sort of stuff in the future, but for now I’m interested in your thoughts; have you noticed this phenomenon at all? Does it make sense to you or sound like nonsense?

4 thoughts on “The Flynn Effect – Or Why We Really Are Smarter Than Our Parents

    1. My personal guess would be a combination of better nutrition and more exposure to a wide variety of stimulus which perhaps “unlocks” epigenetic potential.

  1. Thank god I’m never having kids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *