Factors contributing to generational differences in intelligence and age differences in wisdom

Essay, 2016
4 Pages, Grade: 6.7


In what ways are you smarter than your parents and grandparents and in what ways are these two older generations smarter or wiser than you? What are some factors that contribute to generational differences in intelligence and age differences in wisdom?

The world wide web, the subsequent digitalization of our lives and the rapid rate of information exchange & priceless data have ushered in a generation of individuals who thrive on ‘instagramming’[1] everything from their morning cup of coffee to the next tech savvy gadget they own; they often access ‘breaking news’ before the television channels get a hold of the news themselves[2] ; they prefer face-time[3] (video calling) than traditional phone calls. They read up on ‘life-hacks’, a synonym for getting the most challenging thing accomplished using the most cost-effective solutions. Their world is filled with the latest app updates, perhaps even perennially lost looking into their smart phones even at the dining table. And this is all tastefully rounded off by the ‘selfie’ phenomenon. Our parents certainly didn’t see it coming. Our grandparents didn’t even know things like this existed unless they were privy enough to read a copy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel titled ‘1984’ which was penned in 1949; it gave a creepy, almost surreally accurate glimpse into the future world, we’re presently inhabiting today. I believe technology & the access it lends to the rest of the world (globalization) is the single most decisive factor in the generational differences of wisdom & intelligence I share with my parents. Has this made the generation that I grew up in more intelligent than the one’s my parents or grandparents grew up in?

In the absence of one conclusive definition of ‘intelligence, one could propose that intelligence is inclusive of but not limited to

a) Fluid & crystallized abilities to solve problems of abstract reasoning and verbal or language based problems.[4]
b) Academic, spatial & mechanical abilities[5]
c) Analytical abilities[6]
d) Other broader concepts such as emotional quotient (EQ), adaptability, application of knowledge etc.

Research shows that people have become more intelligent over the generations due to technological & scientific advances across all lifestyle aspects from healthcare to education, social support to access to information. “(…) rising IQs went hand-in-hand with modernization, which involves more years of education and more jobs that require analytic abilities and abstract thinking.” (Wilby, 2016). However, its important to bear in mind that while the definition of ‘intelligence’ is subject to variables that range from genetic predispositions, culture, nutrition to race, exposure to technology & access to opportunities for growth, wisdom stems from experiences; something that no amount of reading or smart tools can substitute. “Wisdom is defined as “an integration of cognitive, reflective, and affective elements.(…) wisdom is not simply another form of intellectual knowledge. While the domain of intellectual knowledge is descriptive knowledge or the accumulation of new truths or facts, the domain of wisdom-related knowledge is interpretative knowledge, or the rediscovery of the significance of old truths through a deeper and more profound understanding of phenomena(…)” (Ardelt, 1997). I may be adept at say, handling bill payments online, do shopping, look for discounts & bargains, read through reviews before purchasing any product, book tickets for a trip or keep track of my account balance all in less than 20 minutes with the click of a mouse; compared to the ways my parents are familiar with. Being tech savvy saves time & money which is a smart choice. But when it comes to gauging someone’s character (interpretative knowledge), dealing with a crisis or seeking answers to life’s bigger questions, parents and grandparents have insight that no Google search result can produce in 30 seconds.

This is however not to say that parents & grandparents are less successful at adapting to technology or matters of intelligence in the modern world. On the contrary, when it came to learning, “Baby Boomers (that is, individuals born between (1946-1964), had the highest levels of satisfaction with engagement and interaction; (…) findings also indicated that older students were the most likely to change their approach to learning whereas Net generation (…Millennials) students were the least satisfied and the least likely to change their approach to learning”. (Garcia & Qin, 2007). Parents & grandparents have experienced the duality of the absence & presence of technology, well aware of its pros and cons. I believe the era in which they grew up was marked by considerable instability- The aftermath of World War II, the independence struggle, poverty, unemployment, lack of access to quality education & healthcare and their own personal ambitions, which were limited to fending for the family, having a roof over their heads, having three square meals. They weren’t looking to make a difference in the world because they grew up in an era that was just trying to survive. They know how to survive well in the absence of technology because that’s the environment they were raised in; they’re resourceful. They’ve also witnessed where technology can simplify complex tasks for them as well as see the juxtaposition of certain old fashioned ways of doing things, which seemed more humane.

I believe my generation has grown up far too comfortably to know of those struggles. Wisdom to me is knowledge that would benefit another and it must be shared. I have learned to question everything because there is such a thing as ‘misinformation’ & ‘information overload’; and while information might be knowledge, wisdom from experience differs from what one scores on an IQ test. Millennials as we’re popularly called, have only learned to rely heavily on gadgets; we may be smarter & more intelligent than our previous generations according to the ‘Flynn effect’[7] but the generational differences in wisdom are obvious because what I’ve accumulated comes from my exposure to knowledge in the form of data, and not as much experience to validate it. What my parents show is experience, tempered by hard learned life lessons. It’s actually a bit of a dilemma to see if their wisdom holds true in a generation where the very foundations of what they’ve known is being reconstructed to suit the advances made in science & technology.


Ardelt, M. (1997). Wisdom and Life Satisfaction in Old Age. Journal of Gerontology, 15-27.

Garcia, P., & Qin, J. (2007). Identifying the Generation Gap in Higher Education: Where Do the Differences Really Lie? Innovate:Journal of Online education.

Wilby, P. (2016, September 27). Beyond the Flynn effect: new myths about race, family and IQ? Retrieved October 1, 2016, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/27/james-flynn-race-iq-myths-does-your-family-make-you-smarter


[1] Instagram is a social network where users post pictures.

[2] Twitter, a social media network is the fastest access to breaking news in real-time.

[3] Skype

[4] Cattell’s concept of fluid & crystallized intelligence

[5] Philip E.Vernon’s group-factor theory of intelligence

[6] Robert Sternberg's triarchic theory on intelligence

[7] ‘Flynn effect’ is a term coined in the 1980’s to describe a progressive increase on IQ test scores measured from the 1930’s to present time.

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Factors contributing to generational differences in intelligence and age differences in wisdom
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Andrea Johnson (Author), 2016, Factors contributing to generational differences in intelligence and age differences in wisdom, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/387039


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