Rural vs. Urban IQ

This post is going to lay out the argument that rural areas tend to have lower average IQs than urban areas as well as any opposing evidence. 

A study by Clark and Gist (1938) took a large sample of rural high school students and tested their IQ through the Terman intelligence test. 13 years after administering the test, the participants were surveyed on what career they had chosen and whether or not they lived in an urban or rural area. In the sample, the farmers, and semiskilled/unskilled workers were more likely to have lower IQ scores. Semiskilled and unskilled workers included “farm laborers, factory laborers, janitors, miners, truck drivers, taxi drivers, porters, waiters and waitresses, WPA workers, housemaids, etc.” Housewives were also more likely to have lower IQs. 58.84 percent of farmers had IQs below 95 whereas only 11.31 percent had IQs of 105 or higher. Farmers, of course, had to live in rural areas. Semiskilled/unskilled workers and housewives were far more likely to live in rural areas. Additionally, while teachers were more likely to live in rural areas as well, the ones living in rural areas were significantly less intelligent than those living in urban areas. This was true for skilled workers, housewives, and semiskilled/unskilled workers as well. This would weight the average IQ of rural areas even more downwards. This is also completely in line with the reason why rural areas would be more likely to hold lower average IQ scores – the labor is far more repetitive and requires less cognitive skill. This is not to say farm work is dull or unappreciated – it certainly requires a lot of strength and effort and is incredibly important.

Gist and Clark (1938) examined a sample of over 2,000 students, measuring their intelligence with the Terman IQ test following them past high school and into adulthood. In the present study, they were essentially measuring how intelligence influences migration into rural or urban areas and how these areas facilitate high-IQ people. The people who stayed in rural areas were markedly less intelligent than those who moved into urban areas, which can be seen in the figure below:

What is most interesting is that rural non-farm classes were more intelligent on average than rural farm classes. This would be in line with what I said before: farm work does not demand high cognitive ability, making it a more attractive field for less intelligent people. Finally, the authors split the urban group up by the level of urbanity (four separate classes by population size) and the group living in the most urban areas had the highest IQs as well. Overall, they find that urban areas are particularly a source of intelligence.

Lentz (1956) focuses on the criminological aspect of urban-rural differences, but does test both groups for intelligence. The rural group did score lower than the urban group. Interestingly, the author finds that in many areas, rural boys had higher crime rates than did urban boys, contrary to mainstream views on urban crime (my personal view is that rural areas tend to have worse estimates of crime rates due to the amount of open area available). Criminality/delinquency are negatively associated with criminality (Jeffrey, 2019). Rechsly and Jipson (1977) find that rural residence was a predictor of mild mental retardation.

Swami and Furnham (2010) analyze a sample of Malaysian citizens on self-assessed intelligence (SAI). Across all types of self-assessed intelligence, urban participants reported higher SAI than rural participants. Additionally, men reported higher SAI than women.

McNemar (1942), Janke and Havinghurst (1945), Seashore, Wesman and Doppelt (1950), Kaufman and Doppelt (1976), and Reynolds, Chastain, Kaufman and McLean (1987) all find that there is a significant difference in urban IQ and rural IQ, favoring the urban group. Though some of these studies do find the gap is decreasing (Kaufman and Doppelt; Reynolds et al.).  Emmett (1954) finds the urban-rural IQ difference is fairly small at only a bit bigger than 1.5 points. Emmett is wrong in assuming this gap has no practical significance as most of the effect IQ has on society is placed on the tails of the distributions rather than at the mean (Rindermann, Sailer, and Thompson, 2009). 

Anastasi (1958) looks at urban populations vs. rural populations in France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Romania, and Ceylon. They find that there are significant differences in intelligence between the two groups, favoring the urban populations. Alexopoulos (1979) looks at urban children and rural children in Greece and finds a difference of nearly one standard deviation at ages 13-15. Alexopoulos (1997) looks at a large sample from Greece and finds that by adulthood, a significant, large difference exists between rural and urban people in IQ. The total difference was 11-12 points, favoring urban participants. Kagitcibasi and Biricik (2011) look at Draw-a-Person test scores over time by rural and urban areas in Turkey. They find that the gap has been declining but a significant gap remains between the two. 

Though, the rural-urban effect is not consistent across countries. In a Scotland survey, Rusk (1940) found so significant differences between rural and urban IQ. Asian countries also tend to have the highest average IQs, but are still largely rural. It seems they have been able to avoid this effect. But, while the country wide IQ scores are higher compared to other countries, perhaps there is a difference within the country between rural and urban area IQ scores.

Overall, there is some evidence of a rural-urban difference in intelligence, though it may be declining over time as resources become more evenly distributed in Western countries.


ALEXOPOULOS, D. (1979) Revision and standardization of the WISC-R for the age range 13-15 years in Greece. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Univer. of Wales, Great Britain. 

Alexopoulos, D. S. (1997). Urban vs Rural Residence and IQ. Psychological Reports, 80(3), 851–860. doi:10.2466/pr0.1997.80.3.851 

ANASTASI, A. (1958) DifferentiaI psychology: individual and group differences in behavior. (3rd ed.) New York Macmillan.

Clark, C., & Gist, N. (1938). Intelligence as a Factor in Occupational Choice. American Sociological Review,3(5), 683-694. Retrieved from

Emmett, W. G. (1954). The intelligence of urban and rural children. Population Studies, 7(3), 207–221. doi:10.1080/00324728.1954.10415561 

Gist, Noel and Carroll D. Clark, (1938) “Intelligence as a Selective Factor in Rural-Urban Migrations,” American Journal of Sociology 44, no. 1: 36-58.

JANKE, L. L., &HAVIGHURST, R. j. (1945) Relations between ability and social status in a midwestern community: 11. Sixteen-year-old boys and girls. Journal of Educational Psychology, 36, 499-509. 

Jeffrey, Zeke. “Crime and IQ: A Review.” g-Loaded, 5 Oct. 2019,

Cigdem Kagitcibasi, Duygu Biricik. (2011). Generational gains on the Draw-a-Person IQ scores: A three-decade comparison from Turkey. Intelligence, Volume 39, Issue 5, Pages 351-356

KAUFMAN, A. S., & DOPPELT, 1. E. (1976) Analysis of WISC-R standardization data in terms of stratification variables. Child Development. 47. 165-171.

Lentz. W.P. 1956 “Rural urban differentials and juvenile delinquency ” Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science 47: 331-39. 

MCNEMAR, Q. (1942) The revision of the Stanford-Binet scale. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin

Reschly, D. J., & Jipson, F. J. (1977). Ethnicity, geographic locale, age, sex, and urban–rural residence as variables in the prevalence of mild retardation. Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry & Child Development, 612-624.

REYNOLDS, C. R., CHASTAIN, R. L., KAUFMAN, A. S., & MCLEAN, J. E. (1987) Demographic characteristics and IQ among adults: analysis of the WAIS-R standardization sample as a function of the stratification variables. Journal of School Psychology, 25, 323-342. 

Rindermann, H., Sailer, S., & Thompson, J. (2009). The impact of smart fractions, cognitive ability of politicians and average competence of peoples on social development. Talent Development & Excellence, 1, 3–25.

RUSK, R. R. (1940) The intelligence of Scottish children. In 39th Yearbook: National Society for the Study of Education, Part 11. New York: Columbia Univer. Pp. 269-273. 

SEASHORE, H. G., WESMAN. A,, & DOPPELT, . (1950) The standardization of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 14, 99-110. 

Swami, V., & Furnham, A. (2010). Self-assessed intelligence: Inter-ethnic, rural–urban, and sex differences in Malaysia. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(1), 51–55. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2009.11.002 

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