Is the Lower Class Wiser?

Science Fields

Your level of wisdom might be related to which social class you are in. University of Waterloo researchers found that lower class populations are generally wiser than their middle-class counterparts. The reason lies in their higher ability to reason, especially about interpersonal matters.

Researchers assert that the ability to regard the perspectives of others and aim for compromise comes more naturally to those who grow up poor or working class. They also believe that raw intelligence doesn’t reduce conflict, but such wisdom does. 

Their study defines wisdom as the ability to be open-minded, intellectually humble and integrate different perspectives on a particular matter.

Igor Grossmann, associate professor of psychology, led the research to compare different social classes based on this definition. He says, "As we continue to focus as a society on independence and entitlement among the middle class, we are also inadvertently eroding wisdom and reasoning in favour of a more self-centred population."

In the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers used data from 2145 people taking an online survey. Participants were asked to remember a recent conflict they had with someone and answer relevant questions such as: “Did you ever consider a third-party perspective?”, “How much did you try to understand the other person’s viewpoint?” and “Did you consider that you might be wrong?” All answers were evaluated by taking into account the participants’ need to use their reasoning ability and their social class. People within the lowest social class (less income, less education, etc.) scored about twice as high on the wise reasoning scale as those in the highest social class.

In the second part of the research, 200 people were asked to take a standard IQ test and read three letters to a newspaper’s advice column. Then they were asked to discuss their thoughts with an interviewer, and just like in the first part, lower class members scored higher wisdom/reasoning points.

This is how the researchers interpret their findings: People who grow up in lower class have to rely on shared resources more than people in the middle class, and feel the need to develop social techniques to fix conflicts with their peers. Those in the middle class, however, tend to focus on education that improves their IQ scores, but they don’t put much effort into their conflict resolution skills.



  • 1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171220091659.htm
  • 2. https://phys.org/news/2017-12-class-wiser-interpersonal-conflict-middle.html
  • 3. http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/284/1869/20171870
  • 4. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/12/lower-your-social-class-wiser-you-are-suggests-new-study