Are Richest People The Smartest? A New Study says No

There is a strong social tendency to identify the richest people as being the most successful (first mistake), and secondly, that the most successful individuals are also those that are the most intelligent (second error).

But this isn’t true in many cases; in fact, the majority of the time it’s not. A new study shows that the wealthiest people are not the smartest, but rather the luckiest. Money has more to do with luck than with intelligence, and that does not mean that there are not rich people who are very intelligent, but the relationship is not linear.

The statistical distributions of wealth and intelligence do not match

This time it was through an article in the MIT Technology Review that we learned about a computerized study that has modeled the process of wealth creation, trying to emulate the social and economic mechanisms that intervene in it in reality.

It is in the Italian University of Catania where the research work has been carried out by Alessandro Pluchino and his colleagues. The research has consisted in modeling human talent and the way in which individuals use it to take advantage of the opportunities offered by life. Two of the main parameters modeled by these researchers have been the talent itself, as well as chance and luck.

The starting point that put these researchers on the path of this modeling, as the article in MIT relates, was the fact that the statistical distribution of wealth is not in accordance with the distribution of the intelligence among the individuals that make up society.

The basic argument, and totally coherent, is that the model of meritocracy to naturally create wealth is not consistent with the fact that we find rich and distributed economic resources with a probabilistic distribution that follows a potential law. This distribution observed in practice means that, among the rich themselves, there are many with “more limited wealth”, and a few with a wealth that is several orders of magnitude more.

On the contrary, the distribution of intelligence does not present this same distribution in society, and we can say with total certainty that there is no individual 1 million times more intelligent than the average human being. But nevertheless, the economic resources of Carlos Slim or Bill Gates are to these multipliers of the common of mortals. The distributions do not coincide, then there must be more parameters that influence the model and the distribution of wealth.

The computer model that has simulated the wealth creation process

More specifically, the simulation consists of a model with N individuals characterized by different attributes of dexterity, intelligence, ability…that follow a normal distribution around the average, as observed in reality.But the Italian researchers also included random variables as parameters of their model.

With this, this model takes into account the occurrence of economically beneficial events that take place by a fortune that smiles at some individuals. Other important parameters of the model are that it is simulated during a period of 40 years, which assumes an average working life, and also assumes that events fortunately experienced by individuals can only be exploited by them if they have a minimum base level of talent.

After the series of simulations were carried out to validate the model, the most significant result is that the distribution of wealth in the simulated society ended up presenting a distribution of 80-20: that is, at the end of the simulation, 20% of the individuals accumulated 80% of the wealth. Coincidentally, this same 80-20 distribution is what also ends up being achieved in practice in all human societies.

And it is precisely the individuals who have randomly experienced more events fortunately, and who have known how to take advantage of them thanks to a minimum threshold of intelligence, who have ended up accumulating more economic resources.


Obviously, wealth requires minimum thresholds of intelligence below which it is highly unlikely to be able to accumulate or even maintain it. Although it is no less true that, in specific cases, an extraordinarily high dose of luck can supply the gap as an exception. In general, it is true that a minimum amount of intelligence is a necessary condition to end up having many zeros in your account.

But from there to affirm that the most intelligent are the richest, there is a further leap of stereotype and social convention than of necessary realism. There is no better way for all of us to be richer as a socio-economy than creating a fertile breeding ground for the multiplication and progress of innovation and ideas, wherever they may be. With these premises, we will be closer to a real meritocracy.

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