Does Childhood Intelligence Predict Better Health in Adulthood?

Intelligence will take you a long way in this world. People with high intelligence may perform better academically, earn more degrees, and secure more lucrative professional positions than those with less intelligence. But intelligence does not predict success. Motivation, passion, determination, and other critical factors determine who will become peak performers and who will fall short. But intelligence does appear to give people an edge when it comes to their health. Some studies have shown that intelligent children have fewer health problems in adulthood than their less intelligent peers. There are many variables that affect these results, such as access to health care, socioeconomic status, and gender. Also, each dimension of intelligence works differently to affect health.

Marius Wrulich of the Centre for Educational Measurement and Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Luxembourg recently conducted a study considering all of these variables. Specifically, Wrulich looked at how three dimensions of intelligence—general intelligence, fluid intelligence (Gf), and crystallized intelligence (Gc)—predicted adult health outcomes in a sample of 717 Luxembourg citizens. The participants were initially assessed when they were 12 years old for Gf, which encompassed problem solving and reasoning, and Gc, which was based on high-demand tasks and verbal challenges. When they reached age 52, the participants provided self-reports describing their health status.

Wrulich discovered that there was a significant link between Gf and adult health. The participants with the higher levels of Gf had much better physical health in adulthood than those with low levels of Gf. These results were maintained even when Wrulich accounted for variations in gender and socioeconomic status. Of particular interest is that in Luxembourg, all citizens have access to top-quality health care, which means that the health services did not vary from participant to participant. And yet there was a large discrepancy in health status, which was related directly to childhood intelligence and, specifically, fluid intelligence.

Wrulich believes that individuals with strong problem-solving skills may manage their health from a more practical standpoint, make better lifestyle choices, and care for themselves better than those with lower fluid intelligence. In sum, they may be able to self-care in minor health situations, whereas those who are unable to problem solve may seek more professional help. This was evidenced by more sick days at work and more doctor visits in the low-Gf group. These findings also show that health care itself cannot provide the answer for all health problems, and interventions should focus on strengthening intelligence, and Gf in particular, in children. “Finally, public health care and preventive measures, as well as patient contact with health care practitioners, should be adapted to the intellectual abilities of the recipients,” Wrulich said.

Wrulich, M., Brunner, M., Stadler, G., Schalke, D., Keller, U., Martin, R. (2012). Forty years on: Childhood intelligence predicts health in middle adulthood. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030727

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  • Pearl


    December 18th, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    So its more about intelligent folk taking better care of their health.I thought the study would have found some genetic relation.Because intelligence may mean genes that are better at physical health too.Is there any such relation at all?

  • dana


    December 18th, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    When I first started to read this I was convinced that this was going to be a result of those with higher intelligence making more money as adults and then having better access to better health care. But after reading I see that this is not always the case and there could be some other factors that we are not yet aware of which could lead to better overall health in the smart kids. man! Couldn’t those of us who are average get a break every now and then?

  • Elise Mills

    Elise Mills

    December 19th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    Here’s a thought: maybe smarter people have a better idea about what it takes to take care of themselves mentally and physically and they are better able to make this a reality

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