When we think of the richest people in the world, we often assume they have high levels of intelligence and talent. However, a new study shows that this is actually not always the case. Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden, the European University Institute in Italy and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands found that people in the top 1 percent of the income scale score lower on tests of cognitive ability than those who earn slightly less.
The researchers call this phenomenon the “cognitive ability plateau.” They argue that at the highest wage levels, the resources available through family background and career success are weighted more heavily than overall intelligence. Thus, intelligence and talent are not the primary factors in determining income and success.
The study was based on data from 59,387 Swedish men who took a conscription test at age 18 or 19. While the data is limited by nationality and gender, it provides a relatively large sample across different pay levels and occupations.
These results raise doubts about the standard view of meritocracy, where success and wealth are achieved through outstanding intelligence and talent. They show that at the highest pay levels, other factors such as socioeconomic background, culture, personality and luck play a more important role.
The researchers note that this observation is important in today’s world, where the super-rich have an increasing influence on global political, social and economic processes. This means that the richest people are not always the smartest and most competent.
Challenging the argument that those who earn the most deserve it the most, the study points to the need for a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. Intelligence and hard work still matter, but they are not the only factors in success.