Where Smart People Live: What Your Chosen Home Says About Your Intelligence

Cigarettes dotting the sidewalk, used chewing gum attached to every surface, large crowds of sweaty commuters, and thick, smoggy air — American cities certainly have their downsides. But, they’re also where smart people gravitate.

A longitudinal study on American migration patterns has found that people with higher intelligence are more likely to move from rural to urban areas. The study, conducted by psychologist Markus Jokela of the University of Helsinki, tracked the movements of over 11,500 Americans between the ages of 15 and 23, beginning in 1979. It compared the participants’ baseline location (classified as "rural," "suburban," "urban," or "central city") with their location 16 years later, and then related this movement to their scores in a range of intelligence tests.

The resulting trend is not exactly surprising — it makes sense for more intelligent individuals to move to cities where employment opportunities and chances for further education are greater. However, the exact figures are striking. The study found a drastic 12-point difference in percentile ranking of intelligence scores between those individuals who grew up in rural areas and remained there, and those who began in rural areas and moved to city centers. Those who moved from rural areas to the suburbs fell in between these two groups in terms of intelligence. As Jokela told City Lab , this all means that the migration trends often associated with socio-economic status are also influenced by differences in intelligence.

But that’s not all. Interestingly, this intelligence trend ran in reverse for individuals who began in city centers. Of those starting in the city, the most intelligent people tended to move to the suburbs. In fact, they ranked 4 percent higher in intelligence than those who remained in the city.

If this study is any indication, the old adage “the grass is always greener on the other side” strongly applies to the smarter members of society. Savvy city dwellers seek suburban life while bright individuals with rural origins want the hustle and bustle of the city.