Socio-Economic Class & Intelligence

Written by: Deanna Shelby and Julia Carlson for PSYCH/525

Literature Review: Socio-Economic Class & Intelligence

Although it should never be considered an issue in a perfectly unbiased testing method, socio-economic class is thought to have an effect on levels of intelligence. Basically socio-economic class status dictates and labels where an individual or group of individuals lands financially and demographically in their culture. Knowing someone’s socio-economic status can tell someone what financial bracket said individual would fall into, and based on that one can deduce with some accuracy as to where this individual lives (upscale part of town versus areas that would be considered “the ghetto” or things like that), and even can sometimes lend a hint as to the racial or ethnic identity of the individual (however, this is not accurate in all situations).                    Based on the chances, or lack thereof, that one would obtain based on their socio-economic class level, it can be reasonably said that one may lack the ability to develop an intelligence level to match or exceed that of their counterparts holding higher socio-economic statuses than they currently are. “It is a sociological truism, evidenced by a number of studies, that children of higher social class origins are more likely to aspire to high educational and occupational goals than children of lower social class origins” (Sewell & Shad, 1968). While intelligence is different than achievement, which is usually obtained through observations and through the educational system, intelligence can also be stimulated and motivated through the school system as well.                                                                                                                            

For example, sound judgments and rational thought are factors that are taken into consideration when measuring intelligence levels, and these things can be taught at a young age in school, either through the experiences an individual may come across on their own in that setting, or through actual problem-solving practices employed by the education system and teachers.

Based on the above mentioned factors, and the fact that socio-economic status is directly related to financial stability/instability, which in turn can be related to the type of education that a person or family can afford, it can reasonably be deduced that intelligence can to some extent be influenced by ones’ socio-economic class and the experiences directly related to that level.

Division of Work Investigated into Themes                                                                                  

Within this paper, there is a breakdown of some of the works under investigation into themes with those in support and those against socio-economic class and intelligence testing.  Along with major contributions that this kind of test offers, the current positions are discussed.  Also considered are challenges of test reliability and validity, and gaps in research for this kind of test. Individuals differ in their abilities to comprehend, learn, and understand all different scopes. SES can play a part into their experiences with reasoning, obstacles, and their environments (Neisser, 1995). 

Support and Advantages of Intelligence Testing                                                                          

With SES intelligence testing, there are advantages and disadvantages. Those that are in support of the testing see more of the advantages and those that do not support see the disadvantage side more. One of the advantages of intelligence testing (IQ Test) is that it can help identify individuals that may benefit from additional assistance and lead them to a better, more sustainable life (Carman, 2010). Behavioral explanations during any type of IQ testing can help provide more information about the socioeconomic status and the personality characteristics. This can help with the stress and anxiety of one’s life. Those that are in favor for the testing also feel that the tests are extremely accurate and standardized, reliable, normed, and validated (Neisser, 1995).                                                                                             

Against Intelligence Testing and Disadvantages                                                                           

Those who oppose the testing typically look at the disadvantages versus the advantages of the testing. Some of the disadvantages relate to classifying individuals into stereotypes based on their socioeconomic status. Those that are not in support of this testing feel that the intelligence tests are inadequate in forecasting non-test and nonacademic activities but are still used to make those presumption’s about the individuals academic abilities (Jensen,1969). The test can be less accurate when it comes to long term predictions because many of them are not controlled or monitored. Some also feel that individuals are capable to have more cognitive abilities than the intelligence testing measures.

Gaps of Research and Contradictions                                                                               

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there is a large gap of research when it comes to intelligence testing related to socioeconomic status. Tests are consistently being revamped and altered to fit various needs across multiple avenues. However, according to the APA, there are several gaps and contradictions when it comes to the testing (American Psychological Association, 2004).  For example, the APA uses the SAT test. There has been several research projects that assert practical intelligence based on socioeconomic status that show different scores among different statuses. The research showed that by expanding the questions and other related subjects, more college students were able to be more accurate and successful later on in life (Schmitt, Keeney, Oswald, Pleskac, Billington, Sinha,  & Zorzie, 2009).                                                                                                                                      

There is another article that shows the contradictions of student performance using cognitive and non-cognitive predictors and the impact on demographic stats of admitted students. The article covers the gap in research for the grade point averages of several students based on their socioeconomic status and intelligence. The test was given to several colleges in their admission process and added situational judgment based on SES (Schmitt, Keeney, Oswald, Pleskac, Billington, Sinha,  & Zorzie, 2009). 


American Psycholoigcal Association. (2004, June 17). Intelligence and Achievement Testing: Is the Half-Full Glass Getting Fuller? Retrieved from

Carman, C. (2010, April). Socioeconomic Status Effects on Using the Nagileri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT) to Identify the Gifted/Talented. Gifted Child Quarterly, 54(2), 75-84.doi:10.1177/0016986209355976

Cohen, R., & Swerdlik, M. (2010). Psycholoigcal testing and assessment: An introduction to tests and measurements (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Jensen, R. (1969, January). Intelligence, Learning Ability and Socioeconomic Status. Journal of Special Education, 3(1), 23-35. doi:10.1177/002246696900300103

Neisser, U. (1995, August 7). Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. Retrieved from

Schmitt, N., Keeney, J., Oswald, F. L., Pleskac, T. J., Billington, A. Q., Sinha, R., & Zorzie, M. (2009, November). Prediction of 4-year college student performance using cognitive and non-cognitive predictors and the impact on demographic status of admitted students. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1479-1497. doi:10.1037/a0016810


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