Jean M.Twenge, W. KeithCampbell, Ryne A.Sherman
When controlled for educational attainment, adults’ vocabulary skills have declined.
The vocabulary of U.S. college graduates was lower in the 2010s vs. the late 1970s.
Vocabulary declined across all levels of educational attainment.
The decline in vocabulary is primarily a time period effect.
We examined trends over time in vocabulary, a key component of verbal intelligence, in the nationally representative General Social Survey of U.S. adults (n = 29,912). Participants answered multiple-choice questions about the definitions of 10 specific words. When controlled for educational attainment, the vocabulary of the average U.S. adult declined between the mid-1970s and the 2010s. Vocabulary declined across all levels of educational attainment (less than high school, high school or 2-year college graduate, bachelor’s or graduate degree), with the largest declines among those with a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Hierarchical linear modeling analyses separating the effects of age, time period, and cohort suggest that the decline is primarily a time period effect. Increasing educational attainment has apparently not improved verbal ability among Americans. Instead, as educational attainment has increased, those at each educational level are less verbally skilled even though the vocabulary skills of the whole population are unchanged.
This is much like work Audacious Epigone did in years past showing that at each level of educational attainment, people are getting dumber, at least verbally. (The Flynn Effect might be still driving up scores on Raven’s Matrices-type non-verbal IQ.)
This ties in to the obvious dumbing down of campus protest culture since the 1960s. Back then, student radical protests tended to be led by clever Jewish guys confident they could outsmart The Establishment the way Bugs Bunny or Groucho Marx outsmarted their foils.
Today, though, pride of place is reserved for the More Intersectional, such as black women. So we hear more and more about their feelings about Hair Oppression and how the campus authorities must step in and crush anybody who doesn’t worship their hair.