The news: According to a new study published in the journal Intelligence, the "brain drain" is real and it's moving in one direction. The researchers found that people with high IQs tend to start out in rural areas and end up in city centers.
The extensive study, led by psychologist Markus Jokela of the University of Helsinki, analyzed American migration patterns from 1979 on, tracking nearly 11,500 people over time. During follow-up interviews, participants took residential surveys as well as intelligence tests.
The result: People with high intelligence were more likely to move from rural to urban areas, and then back to the suburbs. "The most general message is that the selective residential mobility we observe associated with socioeconomic status has its psychological underpinnings in intelligence differences," Jokela told CityLab.
According to CityLab's Eric Jaffe:
"The first clear finding was that people who moved to central cities from less urban areas had higher intelligence scores. People who lived in rural areas at the initial survey and remained there at the follow-up, for instance, scored in the 46th percentile of cognitive ability (charted below, far left line). Those who started in rural areas and moved to the suburbs scored in the 50th percentile. Those who started rural then moved to urban areas reached the 54th percentile. And those who started in rural areas and ended up in city centers hit the 57th percentile—an 11-point gap over those who stayed put."
Even when adjusted for socioeconomic status, the trend remained:
Image Credit: Intelligence
Why the trend? It actually makes sense for smart, educated people to move to cities, where there are more opportunities for high-paying jobs and further education. The reverse effect seems to come from well-off individuals' decision to go back to suburbs to start their families, a trend that was particularly popular in the 1980s.
According to the latest Pew Research survey, economic opportunity remains the No. 1 reason for Americans to move. As long as jobs and economic resources stay concentrated in urban centers, this "brain drain" will continue to shape American migrations.