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Is IQ Linked to Longevity?

Contrary to previous research, a new study out today finds that people with lower IQs are not necessarily more likely to die prematurely.

Previous studies have found low IQ to be associated with a greater risk of dying young. To try to examine that more closely, Tomas Hemmingsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues analyzed data about 43,283 people born between 1949 and 1951. For military service, the men underwent extensive testing, including an IQ test and screening for physical and mental health problems. The researchers then followed the men through 2003. It's the largest study of its kind.

When those who died during the study period were analyzed by IQ alone, the researchers found a clear pattern: the lower the IQ the greater the chance of dying between the ages of 40 and 54. In fact, those with the lowest IQ were more than three times more likely to die early in middle age than those with the highest score.

But when the researchers took other risk factors into consideration, such as childhood social circumstances including socioeconomic status, adolescent behavior and mental health and adult social circumstances, the association between IQ and premature death disappeared, the researchers reported in a study that will be published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The researchers say the findings indicate that it's not IQ per se that increases someone's risk of dying prematurely. Instead, it could be that lower IQ leads to poorer socioeconomic status or other circumstances that are really to blame.

By Rob Stein  |  July 2, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health , Mental Health  
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I have not read the study, but this item in the Post is not impressive. Consider this sentence: "Instead, it could be that lower IQ leads to poorer socioeconomic status or other circumstances that are really to blame."

The blame, dear writer, arises from the lower IQ, which is doing the leading to lives of poorer socioeconomic conditions. People live in such conditions because they do not have the intelligence to find a way out. Apparently, not even in Sweden do their fellow men and women want to give them enough help to get out.

Posted by: bestotimes | July 2, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

bestotimes had the same first reaction I did. Obviously if you control for a bunch of indicators of IQ, the apparent effect of IQ will be reduced. More critical science/health reporting would be nice.

Here are several ways that low IQ can cause premature death: dumb people do dumb things, and so die in more accidents. Dumb people don't follow good advice or have good self control, and so have poor health habits (eg eating/smoking/drinking). Dumb people earn less money and so can afford less health care (might be less of an issue in Sweden).

It also might be the case that good genes/early environment increase both IQ and general "robustness".

Posted by: qaz1231 | July 2, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

So what's the explanation for this guy:

NEWARK, N.J. -- Traffic officer Michael Trotter responded to assist the Newark Fire Department with a man who had suffered injuries from a crash--while driving a motorized barstool! The man claimed that his lawnmower-barstool hybrid could reach speeds of 38 mph on its five-horsepower engine, but he was traveling a sedate 20 mph when he rolled and crashed while making a turn.

Posted by: dparks2 | July 2, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Since the study concerned those in the Military......The brighter individuals would probable make better choices when in harm's way.

Posted by: tonyholst | July 2, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Uh, Rob, your interpretation (and the authors' interpretation) is a little silly. It's like saying that, while obesity increases the likelihood of dying at an earlier age, it's not the obesity per se that causes the dying. The obesity just leads to increased risks of heart disease. Also, it's not the heart disease per se that causes the dying, but the blockage of the heart's arteries. Also, it's not the blockage of arteries per se that causes the dying, but the lack of oxygen delivered to the heart muscle that actually induces death.

I mean, really, doesn't that sound a little silly? No one would have ever thought that low IQ directly caused an early death. Presumably, just like obesity, a low IQ would work through a myriad of other intermediate steps to lead to early death.

Posted by: rlalumiere | July 2, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Since, as several posters have indicated, the 'controlled factors' are mostly indicators of higher IQ, I fear I must predict a short, nasty and brutish life for the author of this article.

Posted by: steelsil2 | July 2, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

"...poorer socioeconomic conditions. People live in such conditions because they do not have the intelligence to find a way out."

bestotimes, while I agree this article wasn't exactly mind blowing, I have to disagree with you on your statement. A poor person is not necessarily less intelligent than a smart person. It's classist, and possibly even racist, to suggest otherwise. You must agree, intelligent people can be born into poverty, and may not receive a good education, and have fewer privileges and connections than wealthy people, all of which make it more difficult to escape poverty (assuming economic success is always the goal of an intelligent person--not accurate either). You're oversimplifying.

Posted by: nonagon | July 2, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

If you write they'll publish it.

Posted by: whocares666 | July 2, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

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