Thoughts on economics and liberty

The average intelligence quotient (IQ) of Indians is around 80-85, with SIGNIFICANT potential to increase

A few years ago, while writing Breaking Free of Nehru, I had come across data that showed that Indians had a particularly low average IQ (of around 85). I'm fully aware of the HUGE problems with IQ tests and the fact that it is very hard to arrive at substantive data on IQs. Also, other methodlogical issues.

But I do think there is something "indicative" or useful in these tests. Based on this I wrote in BFN:

"This figure is based on measurements conducted in India by a range of different researchers over decades. Despite the methodological issues that the underlying data may raise, I have little doubt that this IQ difference is real (I would be pleased to be proven that this is an error.) We can’t simply shrug aside a difference of this magnitude; we should try to explain it"

I thought that's a given. No one has questioned the data since 2008 when my book was published. Tens of thousands of copies have been downloaded, and most people on FTI claim to have read it.

However, Shantanu Bhagwat of FTI has now stated on FB: "Sanjeev: I completely disagree with your assertion on low Indian IQ. Since when did entire populations/ segments of society start having low IQs?"

Well, for Shantanu and many others who might not have come across this what I assumed was widely known information, I've quickly reviewed the literature again and here are my results:


IQ and the Wealth of Nations by Dr. Richard Lynn and Dr. Tatu Vanhanen. See also the scattergram at Also see:

See tables:

National IQs calculated and validated for 108 nations by Richard Lynn and Gerhard Meisenberg, Intelligence 38 (2010) 353–360


he consistent hierarchies of IQ and achievement reported in Lynn's synthesis can be summarized as follows:

  • East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) (Average IQ of 105)
  • Europeans (Average IQ 100)
  • South East Asians (Average IQ 87)
  • North Africans (Average IQ of 84)
  • Sub-Saharan Africans (Average IQ of 67)
  • Australian Aborigines (Average IQ of 62)

National IQ and National Productivity: The Hive Mind Across Asia by Garett Jones, George Mason University

(Click for larger image)

Also: Richard Lynn “Race differences in intelligence: A global perspective,” in Mankind Quarterly, Spring 1991, Vol. 31 Issue 3.

A further article notes: "In the detailed data for South Asians, there is a distinct smaller cluster between 90 and 100, and another bigger cluster between 80 and 90, closer to 90. But then there are a bunch of scores that go as low as 75 which bring down the average to 84." [Source]

On the I.Q. of Nations; Smart, Smarter and Smartest?

Also read this:

This is particularly eye-opening (and problematic):   What this article needs is a robust rebuttal based on the argument I've provided in BFN (self-respect/liberty based). I do not see "Dalit" IQs being "stagnant" or low in the future with greater liberty and dissolution of the caste system.

I recall having read a major list of Indian IQ studies that spanned decades. Let me list whatever I can find now:

Fitzgerald, J.A. and Ludemall, W.W. 1926 The intelligence of Indian children. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 6, 319-328

Sinha, U. 1968 The use of Raven's Progressive Matrices in India. Indian Educational Review, 3, 75-88.

Kamat, V.V. (1964) Measuring Intelligence of Indian Children, 4th ed. Bombay, Oxford University Press.

Das, Jishnu & T. Zajonc (2010) India shining and Bharat drowning: comparing two Indian states to the worldwide distribution in mathematics achievement. Journal of Development Economics 92: 175-187.

Anupama Bhave, Roli Bhargava and Rashmi Kumar,  Validation of a new Lucknow intelligence screening test for Indian children aged 9 to 15 yr, J Pediatr Neurol 2011; 9(2)

KULKARNI SD, PATHAK, NR, SHARMA CS. Academic Performance Of School Children With Their Intelligence Quotient. NJIRM. 2010; 1(3): 12-15.

Badaruddoza and Afzal  M (1993). Inbreeding depression and intelligence quotient among North Indian children. Behaviour Genetics 23: 343-347.

Badaruddoza (2004). Effect of inbreeding on Wechsler intelligence test scores among North Indian Children. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health 16(2): 99-103

Dr. Analpa Paranjape (2004). A comparison of performance on Indian Child Intelligence Test (ICII) of children with mental retardation and learning difficulties.

Bhatt MC. Adaptation of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children for Gujarati population [PhD dissertation]. Ahmedabad (Gujarat): Univ. of Gujarat; 1971.

Ranganath, Priya and Sayee Rajangam (Bangalore). Intelligence quotient in mental retardation. Disabilities and Impairment Vol.21 (1) 5-9. In the present study, the IQ level was test on 426 children (261 boys and 165 girls) with MR who visited the Division of Human Genetics, St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, IQ levels of <50 was observed in 60% of the males and 51-70%in 64% IQ levels of <50 was observed in 40% of the females and 51-70 in 36%.

S. Venkatesan, Basavarajappa and M Divya (Mysore). Seguin form board test: Field try out on a modified procedure of test administration. Indian Journal of Applied Psychology, April 2007, Vol. 44, 1-5.

Misra, Girishwar; Sahoo, Fakir M.; Puhan, Biranchi N. "Cultural bias in testing: India",European Review of Applied Psychology / Revue Européenne de Psychologie Appliquée, Vol 47(4), 1997, 309-317.

 Foundations of Indian Psychology, edited by M. Cornelisson, G. Misra & S. Verma, Publisher: Pearson, New Delhi.

H. S. NARAYANAN, A STUDY OF THE PREVALENCE OF MENTAL RETARDATION IN SOUTHERN INDIA, International Journal of Mental Health, Vol. 10, No. 1, Severe Mental Retardation Across the World: Epidemological Studies (Spring 1981), pp. 28-36

I know there was regular testing of IQs in India by NCERT [See this]. Some good references are available here. I recall Lucknow had something to do with these tests, but can't readily locate the data. But I found this catalogue of 2000 IQ and other tests in India.

Source: The flynn effect: an alert to clinicians (2004), Andrade, Chittaranjan, Indian Journal of Psychiatry vol:46 iss:2 pg:166.

"The only school achievement data for India are from the First International Science Study in 1970 (Comber & Keeves, 1973), and a recent study with a subset of the 2007 TIMSS study in the states of Rajasthan and Orissa (Das & Zajonc, 2010). The school achievement score of India was averaged from these two sources." [Source: Gerhard Meisenberg and Richard Lynn (2011), Intelligence: A Measure of Human Capital in Nations, The Journal of social, political, and economic studies, vol:36 iss:4 pg:421 -454 ]

Indian IQ might be as low as 74:

India also has not participated in a recent student assessment study, with the exception of the states of Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Both states have advanced education and income levels (Suryanarayana, Agrawal, & Prabhu, 2011, Table 1, p. 16). If there is any divergence from the Indian average, test scores in both states should be higher than the national average. Nevertheless, the low raw results (327–345 SAS points, or 74–77 IQ) are astonishing. To address the likely higher than average scores in the above states, we cautiously correct the results by subtracting 10 SAS points (equal to d = 0.10 or 1.50 IQ). [Source:Coyle, T R (2013),  Spearman’s Law of Diminishing Returns and national ability, Personality and Individual Differences,  vol:55 iss:4 pg:406 -410]

IQ is NOT fixed!

Let me emphasise that IQ is NOT fixed. I believe only a small portion of it is genetically determined. Most of it is environmental. IQ changes. I won't go into details, but read this paper:

William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn, “Black Americans Reduce the Racial IQ Gap: Evidence from Standardization Samples”. Psychological Science. October 2006.

Also see this:



Let me end by saying that I don't take the Indian IQ of around 85 very seriously, since I know everyone in India has the potential to dramatically improve their intellectual results with better nutrition and education (particularly critical thinking). However, it is important that we use this information to understand what might be doing on. And then try to fix it.

My hypothesis in BFN focused on freedom (and self-respect), although I noted that it is not enough to explain things. I've now honed in on nutrition as a key factor, since Chinese children get good amounts of meat whereas Indian poor children get almost nothing – little or no meat or milk and only a few cereals and vegetables.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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13 thoughts on “The average intelligence quotient (IQ) of Indians is around 80-85, with SIGNIFICANT potential to increase
  1. arunrapa

    I am glad some Indians have caught wind of this problem of providing for a population that’s not only healthy and educated but also intelligent, which is surely fundamental to the competence of a society and the opportunities available to its citizens.

    There are likely many factors that contribute to general intelligence however a significant component may in fact be inherited, and indeed genetic.

    This does not doom a nation to particular average; first of all plenty can be done to provide children of all demographics in India with educational opportunities, a culture that promotes exercise of intelligence and critical thinking instead of superstition especially during a child’s cognitively formative years, proper nutrition, health care, sanitation, utilities, and motivation to perform the best of one’s intellectual capacity.

    Secondly, yes, even inherent differences in individuals manifesting in different average competencies of populations can be rectified over generations. It is important to remember that no major ethic population has a monopoly on any given phenotype. While there may be significant and relevant average differences, the full range of intelligence capacities may exist in India as much as in Europe or Africa or China.

    To this effect, it makes sense to direct national family planning programs significantly to skew rates of population growth toward those demographics with more more resources to raise their children. In a typical market economy, higher income demographics will tend to occupy disproportionately the higher-power jobs. And in order to successfully compete for education positions and ultimately for employment in higher-power jobs as successful business man, doctor, scientist, engineer, &c., one major component is to possess greater marketable competence, skill, and talent than the average. General intelligence, including its non-trivial heritable component, likely figures significantly into these skills.

    Thus, if wealthier demographics are the ones growing fastest, it stands to reason that so will the average marketable competencies of future generations. If the average competence of the population rises, the wealth and opportunities available to the nation will follow, and all demographics, lower intelligence and lower income included, will benefit from the opportunities offered by a more modern society. This dynamic should hold true so long as we are talking about a typical market economy in which all children have reasonable opportunities to compete on a level playing field with one another in education and workplace (in other words, where greater skill and competence allows one to compete more successfully in the workplace and social stratification does not prevent otherwise competent individuals from achieving higher-power positions).

    The solution to increase general intelligence is to improve access to resources for development of children, national family planning that is significantly progressive with income, and cultural reforms to enable greater social mobility.

  2. Varundev


    Isn’t an IQ of 75 sign of retardation?

    Does this article imply that the entire African continent is full of mentally challenged people?

  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    IQ tests are culture-specific and without an educational background most countries will get a very poor score. It is only AMONG the educated that low IQ scores represent low IQ. Among illiterate cultures, low IQ scores do not necessarily represent low IQ but many other things.

  4. Peterson

    Understandable why India has low IQ. Possible socio-historical and economic evidences could be:

    1. India was ruled and colonized into slavery for more than 900 years by Pathans, Shaks, Huns, Kushans, Mughals and lastly Europeans. A race with low IQ accepts multiple subordination to multiple foreign races.

    2. India could not devise country-friendly economic policies and development policies along with its implementations. Reason is its low IQ level.

    3. Tendency to commit corruption without taking any broad view about its consequences on the country is linked to irrational and chaotic greedy thinking indicating low IQ level.

    4. India is not good in Engineering and Technology. India always depends on foreign products, foreign companies and foreign investments. At best, India can supply a pool of cheap labour force, educated and uneducated both categories. This is also due to low IQ.

  5. Andersson

    >Isn’t an IQ of 75 sign of retardation?

    No, a ~14 year old western teanager has an IQ of 75

  6. Anon

    It is how iq is calculated. If 2 people solve 45 out of 60 questions correctly. One in 45 min and other in 65 min, you will see difference in 35 iq. Most of high iq scores of Europeans and north east asians are due to brain speeds. 348 ms vs 368 ms vs 384 ms.
    Indians are winning all spelling contests in usa as their verbal comprehension memory is 25 iq above Europeans. Though they are unskilled on maths. Average indian grows till 16 year old white kid on maths (3 pc less neurons) or 75 iq. Hence indian philosophies did not turn into things like modern physics of europe.
    Africans have 6 pc lesser neurons. Black and white men are equal in verbal skills and rapping contests in usa gives a proof. However Africans have 4 pc less neurons for maths and 2 pc for visualization.

  7. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    I published this comment out of amusement at the level of nonsense that can be generated by mankind.

  8. Zoey

    I don’t want to compare between countries but India is a jewel which is beautiful and talented in its own cool way. I don’t know about the “IQ-thing”.
    Of USA population, Indians-
    constitute 38% of doctors,
    5% of physicians, 12% of scientists, 34% of Microsoft employees, 36% of NASA scientists.
    40% of US hotels are owned by Indians.
    Aryabhatta invented the concept of zero.
    World’s first university was established in Takshila in 700BC. 10,500 students from around the world came to study here.
    Sanskrit is the most suitable language for computer software. Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to humankind.

    The list is too lengthy.
    As you have seen, ancient Indians had ( no doubt) high IQ. As in the case of modern Indians, there are so many brilliant minds who are contributing good things to the world. But I have seen some bad traits growing amongst the indians. Lethargy, giving up easily and above all, inferiority-complex. It might be due the poor education system here. Due to population boom and corruption, majority of the children are not getting even basic education. Malnutrition is another cause for this deterioration.
    There are thousands of children like Ramanujan, waiting for their chance, only which is never to come by.

  9. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Indeed, I’ve clearly explained that the potential IQ of Indians is as high as anywhere else in the world. It is the lack of freedom, and hence of basic things like nutrition and education, that holds India back. The few Indians in US are around 80 per cent of the talented Indians in existence today (including in India). They represent what is called brain drain. And they number around 0.0001 per cent of India’s population.


  10. Anon

    I publish this comment out of amuaement at the level of retardation of bloggers on internet. Indians in USA are around 3.1 million. How can 3.1 million be 0.0001 pc of India’s population.

    How about Indians living in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, UK, Canada. All of them are in highest (or second highest) income group.

    Indians soldiers migrated in ww2 to Hong Kong to fight the Japanese. As of today, the second generation Indians in Hong Kong are 4-5x richer than Chinese.

  11. vet

    I’ve worked in multiple countries and the conclusion I’ve drawn is Indians are very smart. Indians outside India do very well in IQ tests (for instance Indians in the UK score at 95) impressive since they weren’t migrants selected for intelligence. Given better nutrition and a decent education system, most Indians should do much better.
    IQ is a relative term similar to curved grading, so an IQ of 85 in 2015 really means nothing. It used to be the IQ of 100 in 1945 USA. One could argue that whites in 1945 had access to better nutrition than many Indians still do, so Indians still have room to catch up.

  12. R1

    Within the last two years very large scale GWAS have been published that can finally help to unravel the genetic basis of educational attainment, upward social mobility, intelligence etc. . This research at long last gives us a scientific glimpse behind vague notions of race and class. With gene chip results a genotypic IQ can be computed using allele frequencies from different groups.

    Even more importantly the ability to change the germline with CRISPR editing means that at some time in the 21st Century genetics will no longer matter. Heritability will become zero. It is this near term transformation towards a world of equality, higher achievement and prosperity that we should now focus our attention.

  13. rk14283

    The above NASA statistic is wrong. There are no Indian Americans working in NASA, because you have to be an American citizen to work in NASA. Only 8% of Asians.
    Secondly over 75% of US faculty is white American, only 7% are Asian. 23% are Indian doctors, I do not know where you get the number for physicians. Microsoft employees does not surprise me, because they aren’t very good, most are cheap labour and get in through nepotism. But even there I think the number is inflated.

    And I would also like to know where you got the number for scientists.


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