A dangerous paradox: Rising IQ, Falling EQ


disengagedThere is a dangerous paradox at work: As children grow ever smarter in IQ, their emotional intelligence is on the decline. Perhaps the most disturbing single piece of data comes from a massive survey of parents and teachers that shows the present generation of children to be more emotionally troubled than the last. On average, children are growing more lonely and depressed, more angry and unruly, more nervous and prone to worry, more impulsive and aggressive.

Since 1918, when IQ tests were introduced, the average IQ score in the United States has risen 24 points, and there has been a similar rise in developed countries around the world. The reasons include factors like better nutrition, more children completing more schooling, and smaller family size (which generally correlates with higher IQ scores in children).

In contrast, two random samples of American children, age seven to sixteen, were evaluated by their parents and teachers—adults who knew them well. The first group was assessed in the mid-1970s, and a comparable group was surveyed in the late 1980s. Over that decade and a half there was a steady worsening of children’s emotional intelligence. Although poorer children started out at a lower level on average, the rate of decline was the same across all economic groups—as steep in the wealthiest suburbs as in the poorest inner-city slum.

Dr. Thomas Achenbach, the University of Vermont psychologist who did these studies—and who has collaborated with colleagues on similar assessments in other nations—tells me that the decline in children’s basic emotional competencies seems to be worldwide. The most telling signs of this are seen in rising rates among young people of problems such as despair, alienation, drug abuse, crime and violence, depression or eating disorders, unwanted pregnancies, bullying, and dropping out of school.

What this portends for the workplace is quite troubling: growing deficiencies among workers in emotional intelligence, particularly among those newest to the job. Most of the children that Achenbach studied in the late 1980s will be in their twenties by the year 2000. The generation that is falling behind in emotional intelligence is entering the workforce today.

What Employers Want

A survey of American employers reveals that more than half the people who work for them lack the motivation to keep learning and improving in their job. Four in ten are not able to work cooperatively with fellow employees, and just 19 percent of those applying for entry-level jobs have enough self-discipline in their work habits.

More and more employers are complaining about the lack of social skills in new hires. In the words of an executive: “Too many young people can’t take criticism—they get defensive or hostile when people give them feedback on how they’re doing. They react to performance feedback as though it were a personal attack.”

Extract from Working with Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

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