Why Intelligent People Live Longer

Hauser, Robert, and Alberto Palloni
Working paper no. 2010-04


Numerous studies find a positive relationship between cognitive ability, IQ as measured in childhood or youth, and subsequent survival. Explanations range from the idea that low ability is an indicator of adverse systemic events in early life to the idea that high cognitive functioning is required continuously to maintain health and reduce threats to survival. The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) has followed a large cohort of Wisconsin high school seniors from ages 18 to 69. As expected, in the WLS survival varies positively with adolescent IQ. However, rank in high school class accounts completely for the relationship between IQ and survival, and it has a much larger effect on survival. These findings suggest that cognitive functioning improves survival by promoting behaviours that boost health status, minimize exposure to known risks and optimize returns to health producing inputs, and that such behaviours are firmly in place by late adolescence.