If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

It’s often assumed that those who have accumulated great wealth without the benefit of a sizable inheritance must possess a little extra something when it comes to brainpower. Surely, anyone who’s managed to build a fortune from modest beginnings must have a mental edge that provides them access to inner realms of intelligence the rest of us can only envy. But new research shows that, when it comes to being rich, being smart has nothing to do with it.

The study, conducted over a period of 25 years by Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research, found no correlation between a high I.Q. and an individual’s net worth. Indeed, those of below-average intelligence were likely to be just as wealthy as their high-I.Q. peers.

Nor were those with high I.Q.’s more likely than the dimmer bulbs among us to be free of financial difficulties: Their superior intelligence did not protect them from the maxed-out credit cards, missed payments and personal bankruptcy that beset a large portion of Americans.

Far more than I.Q., emotional intelligence—or E.Q.—may turn out to be the true indicator of success, financial and otherwise.

Indeed, a detailed look at the study reveals that those with high I.Q.’s may actually be less able to manage their finances than the average bear. Why? Because it turns out that high I.Q. does correlate with higher income: Each point in I.Q. increase was found to correspond with $202 to $616 in additional income per year. And so someone with a very high I.Q.—say, 130—earns between $6,000 and $18,500 more annually than someone with an average I.Q. of 100. And yet, even with that income advantage, the high-I.Q. crowd cannot manage to save or build their wealth, since they end up no wealthier than the less-smart, lower-earning crowd. The study notes that, of those with an I.Q. of 125 and above, a full 6 percent still run up their credit cards to the max.

Smart or not so smart, it seems that, in a democracy, debt is the great equalizer.