The Most Intelligent Countries in the World – Where does the UK Stand?

The Most Intelligent Countries in the World – Where does the UK Stand?

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It’s natural for countries to want to gauge how well they perform against others – you only have to glance at the Olympics to see this in action.

But can you also pit countries against each other when it comes to intellect? Using a few different rubrics, such as IQ, school quality, and Nobel Prize winners, we’ve ranked the UK against other nations.

Which Countries Have the Highest IQs?

IQ testing has been a popular way to assess intelligence for more than a century. While IQ tests are flawed (see below), they are still commonly held up as proof that some countries are doing better than others in the brains department. In a 2006 study, British professor Richard Lynn measured the IQ of citizens of more than eighty countries.[1] He found that Singapore and Hong Kong came out on top, followed by South Korea, Japan, and China.

Country Average IQ Number 2021    Population
1. Singapore 108 5,896,686
1. Hong Kong 108 7,552,810
3. South Korea 106 51,305,186
4. Japan 105 126,050,804
4. China 105 1,444,216,107
6. Taiwan 104 23,855,010
7. Italy 102 60,367,477
8. Iceland 101 343,353
8. Mongolia 101 3,329,289
8. Switzerland 101 8,715,494
11. Luxembourg 100 634,814
11. Norway 100 5,465,630
11. Austria 100 9,043,070
11. Netherlands 100 17,173,099
11. United Kingdom 100 68,207,116
16. Estonia 99 1,325,185
16. Finland 99 5,548,360
16. Sweden 99 10,160,169
16. Belgium 99 11,632,326
16. Poland 99 37,797,005

According to this chart, the UK isn’t doing that well – we’re down at 15, while five East Asian countries top the list. So, does that mean the UK is struggling? Are we falling behind in terms of brains and intelligence? Or could it simply mean that our education system isn’t designed with rote memorisation and testing as a top priority?

In certain East Asian countries, a high level of importance is placed on testing and grades. For instance, in China a lot less time is spent on group work and the arts in school.[2] With more time in class spent preparing for standardised tests, it’s no wonder that these students excel on IQ tests.

The Problem with IQ Testing

It’s impossible to look at this information without addressing biases in standardised IQ testing. Giving the same test to people from widely differing communities fails to take different cultural values into account and does not recognise what different communities consider ‘intelligent behaviour.’[3]

If an IQ test is written in Finland with the intention of testing Finnish students, it likely includes cultural contexts specific to that country. In fact, if it is written by an upper middle class white Finn from Helsinki, it might be biased by an even more specific cultural context. If a lower-income Sami person (an Indigenous Finn) from Espoo took the same test, they may not perform as well as a fellow upper-middle-class white Finn from Helsinki. Context matters.

Even though test writers try their hardest to remove cultural context from their IQ tests, it is nearly impossible. So, when we see that certain Asian and European countries always top the lists while others, including African and South American nations, rarely make the cut, it’s important to take the results with a grain of salt.

Who Has the Best Schools in the World?

According to the 2021 Best Countries for Education survey, the UK has a high standing at number two, just behind the US.[4] The results are based on three equally weighted attributes, including excellent public education, international university reputation, and provision of top-quality education.

Based on these attributes, the top ten countries with the best schools are:

  1. The United States
  2. The United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Switzerland
  7. Japan
  8. Australia
  9. Sweden
  10. Netherlands

However, looking at test results alone, the data might tell a different story.[5]

Country Total Score Reading Score Maths Score Science Score
1.       China 1731 556 600 575
2.       Hong Kong 1637 533 555 549
3.       Finland 1631 536 541 554
4.       Singapore 1630 526 562 542
5.       South Korea 1623 539 546 538
6.       Japan 1588 520 529 539
7.       Canada 1580 524 527 529
8.       New Zealand 1572 521 519 532
9.       Taiwan 1558 495 543 520
10.   Netherlands 1556 508 526 522
       21. United Kingdom 1500 494 492 514

Again, similarly to the IQ chart results listed above, you can see that East Asian students rank highest for reading scores, maths scores, and science scores. The explanation is likely the same. The education systems in these countries are highly focused on test results and grades, particularly in these areas of study. Parents, teachers, and the culture in general are all highly geared towards excellence in standardised testing. Even when families from China move to Western countries, this cultural dedication to academic achievements remains.[6]

While there are undoubtedly some extremely smart and intelligent students in China, South Korea, and Japan, there are equally intelligent children in Nepal, Malawi, and Guatemala. However, many children in the latter countries lack the same kind of systemic access to educational opportunities.

 

Which Countries Have the Most Nobel Prize winners?

Another interesting way to determine a country’s collective intellect might be by assessing its number of Nobel Prizes. A Nobel Prize is one of six major international prizes awarded annually for excellent work in chemistry, literature, economics, physics, physiology or medicine, and the promotion of peace.[7] First awarded in 1901, they are judged by elite members of Swedish academic societies, other than the peace prize, which is judged by the Norwegian Parliament.

Here are the top ten countries with the most Nobel Prizes[8]:

Country Number of Nobel Prize Winners 2021 Population
United States 375 332,915,073
United Kingdom 131 68,207,116
Germany 108 83,900,473
France 69 65,426,179
Sweden 32 10,160,169
Russia 31 145,912,025
Japan 27 126,050,804
Switzerland 26 8,715,494
Canada 26 38,067,903
Austria 21 9,043,070

As with the other categories above, it’s always important to note the historical inequality in the distribution of the awards. A shocking 83% of all Nobel laureates have come from Western countries (Europe, Australia, North America), which disregards the immense contributions from Asia, Africa, and South America.[9] This is not only based on historical biases, but also on unequal global resource distribution. It’s worth taking this measure of international intelligence with a grain of salt.

Can the UK Compete with ‘Smarter’ Countries?

So, do these results truly mean that the UK is in trouble when compared to other countries around the globe? As mentioned above, IQ testing is deeply flawed. More reliable methods of testing a country’s intelligence include The Intelligence Capital Index, or ICI.[10] The ICI uses many complex and related factors to predict which countries will be the thought leaders of the future.

According to the 2017 ICI, the United States ranks number one, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Finland, and Denmark.

Similarly, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development uses a plethora of information, including adult education levels, to rate nations by intelligence.[11] According to their most recent rankings, Canada was listed as the world’s smartest country, followed by Japan and Israel. The UK, followed with Korea, the US, Australia, and Finland, came next.

So, it’s clear than the UK isn’t doing too poorly when it comes to intelligence. However, it’s always a smart choice to boost your IQ! Who knows – as an added bonus, you could end up helping the UK’s global ranking.

So, What Can You Do to Boost Your IQ?

Now that you know where the UK stands on the global IQ tables, are you more interested in boosting your own IQ? Reading widely across many subjects is one of the most important things you can do to flex your mental muscles and boost your IQ. Take up a wide number of hobbies and keep your brain flexible, always learning new things.

Home learning courses are another great way to improve your cognitive abilities and increase your IQ. Remember – your IQ isn’t necessarily based on the facts and figures you know, but on your ability to learn, reason, and process new information.

Sources

[1] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/smartest-countries

[2] https://www.shoutoutuk.org/2018/03/05/chinese-asian-students-much-better-school/

[3] https://theconversation.com/the-iq-test-wars-why-screening-for-intelligence-is-still-so-controversial-81428

[4] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/best-countries-for-education

[5] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/education-rankings-by-country

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29544986

[7] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/facts/nobel-prize-facts/

[8] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/nobel-prizes-by-country

[9] https://www.aei.org/carpe-diem/the-history-of-the-nobel-prize-in-maps-and-charts-and-its-not-fair-theres-a-lot-of-inequality-in-the-global-distribution/

[10] https://www.kailchan.ca/2017/04/intelligence-capital-index/

[11] https://www.oecd.org/about/

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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