11/01/2013 10:07 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Dare to Be 100: The Flynn Effect -- Smarter and Older

James Flynn is a New Zealand psychologist who proposed in 1987 that the world is getting smarter. (1) He based his summary statements on observations in numerous countries around the earth and concluded that IQ scores were going up three points for every 10 calendar years. This effect was general and distributed across the globe, although the effects were uneven and certainly evoked controversy. Socioeconomic forces clearly are involved and confound the theorem.

This premise that the world really is getting smarter is a real joy to an optimist such as myself. Maybe our kids and great great grandkids and their cohort will at last be smart enough to rid our planet of such stupid aberrations as starvation and intolerance and war. If smart is a major elixir to improve mankind, let's get on with it.

Several hypotheses are offered to explain this new advance in intelligence. One invokes a general improvement in abstract thinking as an explanation. An increasingly stimulating environment is offered as a causative feature. Another suggests that better nutrition is to be credited. Also an improvement in general health status is suggested to underlie our getting smarter.

My idea is to propose that the fundamental reason behind the Flynn fact that the world is becoming smarter is that we are growing older. Smart people live longer. This is repeatedly documented, so it stands to reason that as our global average age increases so does the world's IQ as well.

As IQs go up it is hoped that EQs will too. Sam Harris proposes that knowing what truth really is deep down will lead to great advances in moral reasoning. (2) Maybe heaven is to be on earth as we emerge from the jungle of ignorance to the promise of older enlightenment.

"Older and Wiser" is the title of a book of sayings attributed to a bunch of old folks, some famous, most not, that my daughter Gretchen and Betty Hofmayer put together 30 years ago. (3) It is a fountain of wisdom.

There is a general sense that wisdom is the principal benefit of being older. Maybe being smarter encourages better decisions which is the basic definition of wisdom.

This wiser and smarter and older future is a prospect that I anticipate with keen hope and confidence.


1) Flynn JR 1987 Massive IQ Gains in 14 Nations. What IQ Tests Really Measure, Psychol. Bulletin; 101:171-191.

2) Harris S., 2010. The Moral Landscape. How Science Can Determine Human Values ;Free Press New York.

3) Dianda G, Hofmayer E. 1995. Older and Wiser; Ballantine, New York