September 22, 2010
IVF Kids Smarter Than Comparable Peers?

Babies born from in vitro fertilization (IVF) appear to be smarter than their peers in one study done in Iowa.

Children conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) perform at least as well as their peers on academic tests at all ages from grade 3 to 12, according to a new University of Iowa study.

I would expect IVF users to be more educated and affluent than non-users of IVF on average. IVF costs thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Also, IVF is used more by older parents. Well, education delays reproduction and increases the odds that IVF will be needed. So smarter people are more likely to need IVF to start pregnancies. One would expect their kids to be smarter on average - at least if IVF isn't lowering their intelligence enough to counteract the beneficial effects of smarter parents disproportionally using IVF.

It is not clear whether these researchers tried to adjust for parental educational attainment or income. Doesn't sound like it.

In fact, the study, published in the October issue of the journal Human Reproduction, found that children who were conceived by IVF actually scored better than age- and gender-matched peers on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test for Educational Development (ITBS/ED).

"Our findings are reassuring for clinicians and patients as they suggest that being conceived through IVF does not have any detrimental effects on a child's intelligence or cognitive development," said lead study author Bradley Van Voorhis, M.D., UI professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Center for Advanced Reproductive Care at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

To investigate whether being conceived by IVF had long-term negative effects on children's cognitive development, Van Voorhis and colleagues compared the academic performance of 423 Iowa children, ages 8 to 17, who were conceived by IVF at UI Hospitals and Clinics with the performance of 372 age- and gender-matched peers from the same Iowa schools. The researchers also analyzed whether different characteristics of the children, parents or IVF methods affected children's test scores.

The IVF kids performed better than the chosen peers.

The study found that children born by IVF performed above average on standardized tests compared to their peers, and that a number of factors were linked to higher test scores, including older age of the mother, higher education levels of both parents and lower levels of divorce.

With Robert Plomin's recent progress in his search for IQ genes we are getting closer to the day when IVF embryo selection will be done to boost intelligence of offspring. Once IVF with embryo selection guided by genetic tests becomes a useful way to boost average offspring intelligence I expect we will see a huge shift toward use of IVF to start pregnancies. Even millions of women who have no problem conceiving naturally will opt for IVF in order to get offspring who are smarter, better looking, and healthier all around.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 22 10:05 PM  Biotech Reproduction

spindizzy said at September 22, 2010 11:10 PM:

Those most ready to pay for intelligence based embryo selection will be those most likely to have smart kids naturally anyway.

Even so, from a trans-humanist perspective this is a very encouraging story.

Placebo said at September 23, 2010 8:36 AM:

If they don't control for demographics (age, socioeconomic, married, etc), the study is worthless. Why bother??
Life is not all genetics - nature, nurture and environment play a very real and important role.

Chris T said at September 23, 2010 9:02 AM:

Although this study probably tells us more about the parents of IVF children than anything else, it is good for verifying that there aren't any obvious flaws in the IVF procedure.

Sione said at September 23, 2010 12:00 PM:

In countries such as Australia and New Zealand IVF can be had with state funding. While it is possible to pay for the procedure 100%, the state does offer substantial grants for people who want to avail themselves of IVF for "free". If the study were undertaken in those countries, that should correct for income disparity etc.

I read of a study where researchers reckoned IVF children were more likely to be tall, athletic and thin, with far less propensity for putting on excess fatness than regular kids. All up, it seems that there may be significant benefits to being an IVF child. I wonder whether any prospective parents are going to take this into consideration in future and decide to have children by IVF instead of by the conventional route.


Chris T said at September 23, 2010 1:56 PM:

What they should have done is included naturally conceived siblings in the mix. That would be a much better control than peers.

Engineer-Poet said at September 23, 2010 8:23 PM:

There's another argument for paying low-IQ couples to take excess embryos from high-IQ couples using IVF.

Randall Parker said at September 23, 2010 8:49 PM:


The research shows that couples who are using IVF are producing smarter children than couples who do not use IVF. So these results show the net effect of IVF on society is to raise average IQ.

Chris T,

Yes, in terms of measuring the effects of IVF on fetal and child development comparing with siblings makes a lot of sense. But is that practical? I would be very curious to know what percentage of parents having IVF babies previously had babies without IVF. Are IVF babies mostly born to couples who haven't had any previous kids?

anonyq said at September 24, 2010 9:19 AM:

IIRC adopted children have also a higher average IQ which would be very strange if IQ was purely genetic.

IVF is sometimes paid for by the "national" health insurance but only for a limited number of times. Often couples pay for more tries and that cost money.
But the most important differentiator between IVF babies and the average babies is the age of the parent. You simply don't try IVF when you are 23, but if you have a child at 23 then you are probably poor, like almost all 23 year old. And there is a very big correlation between wealth/status and IQ of the offspring.

anonyq said at September 24, 2010 9:23 AM:


It is more normal methode kids who have older IVF siblings. But older siblings have IIRC a higher IQ than there younger siblings

Chris T said at September 24, 2010 10:46 AM:

Randall - That occurred to me and my wife pointed it out. I would think that with a large enough sample, you could find a numerically significant number with naturally conceived siblings.

anonyq - No one I've ever come across claims that IQ is purely genetic. A lot of the kids in the adoption studies you refer to came from rather extreme backgrounds - malnutrition and neglect.

Given a minimum set of environmental conditions, you're likely to see diminishing returns for environmental interventions. The trick is determining what those conditions are.

Chris T said at September 24, 2010 11:11 AM:

A gnxp post that summarizes the French adoption study widely cited by environment proponents explains why they're not nearly as supportive of that position as they're made out to be:

Jenny said at September 24, 2010 12:39 PM:

Quite apart from age, education, and income, IVF babies are born to parents who are hugely invested in having a child. Struggling with infertility for several years is devastating, and IVF is physically and emotionally exhausting, so if you successfully conceive a child after working this hard for it then the likelihood is that you'll also work harder to nurture it emotionally and intellectually. Speaking as someone who had to do IVF unexpectedly as a relatively young woman (31), I definitely cherish our son as our "one shot" since I don't know if I'll be able to have another child. I would guess that IVF babies score higher on IQ tests for the same reason that only children do as well -- more one-on-one attention from parents.

anonyq said at September 24, 2010 1:18 PM:

Chris T,

IIRC the study didn't show that the adopted kids had a higher IQ than their native country but that they had a higher IQ than their adopted country.

Chris T said at September 24, 2010 2:03 PM:

I think you're referring to the Korean adoption study. I remember that being the result as well for that particular one. Adoption studies also show no correlation between adoptees and the adopting family while biological children have a significant correlation. You would not expect this if intelligence was primarily due to environmental variables.

Randall Parker said at September 24, 2010 7:51 PM:

Korean trans-racial adoption study: See Alex Tabarrok's take and his follow-up and see TangoMan's post "The Adoption Controversy, Part Two" for a detailed treatment of the study on the trans-racial adoption of Korean babies. In summary: the importance of environment is hugely wildly exaggerated by the American Left.

Environment shows up more on adopted baby scores when they are children and the effects go down and disappear by their 20s. The environmental effects do not last. Genetics swamps them.

Here's the deal: In really really poor environments (with widespread malnutrition and starvation) food quality, micronutrient deficiencies, shelter, and other environmental factors matter a great deal. But we are far above that level in industrialized countries. The marginal return on improved environment has dropped pretty low. There are countries where micronutrient deficiencies (e.g. iodine) matter. We could very cheaply raise IQs in those countries with food fortification and vitamin pills. Though that's hard to do in the poorest countries because in those countries people do not buy much of the kinds of processed foods that can get fortified during processing. Gotta buy table salt in the first place in order to buy iodized table salt.

anonyq said at September 25, 2010 5:20 AM:

It may have disappeared in their 20s but at that time it doesn't matter anymore as education is mostly done in your late 00s and 10s and education is a very significant decider in your career.

ps. What do you mean 20s? Is it gone when you're 20 or it is gone when you are 25?

Randall Parker said at September 25, 2010 12:20 PM:


One's ability to perform intellectually demanding tasks in one's job is the biggest decider of one's career.

Age and environmental effects: I haven't come across reports where IQ is measured every year for adopted kids. The reports I recall had them getting measured a few times as children and then again at age 25 or some other adult age. The effect of smarter parents and smarter other people in their environment fades once the kids are adults. But it is not clear how fast the fading happens.

If you want to understand psychometric research then a good place to start is Linda Gottfredson's research papers. For example, see her paper Why g matters: The complexity of everyday life (PDF file).

If you care to read the hereditarian arguments on IQ and psychometric research I can offer a number of pointers: Start with The Bell Curve. Also read Intelligence,Race, and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen by Jensen and Frank Miele and The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability by Arthur Jensen. If you want a free book on IQ then check out the free download of Chris Brand's IQ book g Factor (same title, different book).

Here and here (both PDF format) are two recent papers by Jensen and Rushton on the IQ, heredity, and environment. You can also read Linda Gottfredson's paper (again PDF) reacting to the first of those two papers.

KTWO said at September 25, 2010 3:37 PM:

There seem to be an awful lot of variables to control for with that sample size. But figuring it out is a homework task for volunteer professionals.

It could be interesting to see a reversed study. i.e. Begin with the test scores of a few thousand randomly selected children. Then find out how many were IVFs among the upper scorers and the lower. Then proceed as usual.

In some testing you must select test and control groups first because something will then be done to those groups.

But for this IVF study nothing remains to be done to the children. Their intelligence tests have already been scored and the IVF took place years ago.

anonyq said at September 26, 2010 7:17 AM:

Again IVF children don't have the same background as the average child. Their parents are rich and older and some groups are absent, like 16 year old mothers or the mentally handicapped. 2 groups that have lower IQed offspring so you have to correct at least for that.

Lono said at September 27, 2010 8:16 AM:

Just a reminder - if you want your homegrown kids to be smarter make sure to up the Choline supplementation in the third trimester - worked like a charm for my children!

It also has had the predictable effect of making them better artists as well - so it's overall brain functionality that is improved and not just specific centers.

It is amazing the level of discourse I am able to have even with my 3 year old - who already discusses astronomical phenomena and artificial intelligence with me on a level that shames most of my co-workers.

I do, however, fear that their frustration with society may one day eclipse even my own - but I am trying to equip them with a knowledge base far superior to that which was supplied to me in my youth to better prepare them for adulthood.

Randall Parker said at September 27, 2010 8:30 PM:


So your kid is going to intellectually outgrow you by age 7.


My main point: IVF is not dysgenic as currently practiced. It is selectively enabling smarter people to have more kids.

anonyq said at September 28, 2010 5:43 AM:

I wouldn't say that. Older people have more dna errors and age is the main reason for IVF. And than there is the added potential risk of the IVF itself.

Lono said at September 28, 2010 7:50 AM:


Heh Heh - well I don't know - that certainly would be a pleasant outcome.

I am fairly confident however that I cannot be intellectually outgrown by a non-augmented Human as I am merging more and more with the internet every day.

The current issue of discover magazine has an excellent article on this phenomena - regarding brain plasticity and sensory extension - but essentially my knowledge base can now grow exponentially - as I no longer have to internalize huge data sets but rather fill those same memory storage areas with pointers to parts of the web.

And I can only imagine my children will be able to do so in an even more efficient manner as they grow older.

It's funny though - sometimes now when a part of the web I have pointers to disappears - it creates almost a physical discomfort in me as my brain resets them to null.

If the whole thing went down suddenly I would likely need a brief period of physical/psychological rehabilitation to adjust.

If the whole thing went down suddenly I would likely need a briff period of physical/pshychological rehabilitation to adjust.

Lono said at September 28, 2010 7:55 AM:

If the whole thing went down suddenly I would likely need a breif period of physical/psychological rehabilitation to adjust.


end of line.

Mthson said at September 28, 2010 7:05 PM:

That's great to hear about the approach you take with your kids, Lono. I (and I'm sure a number of readers) can relate to your sense of growing informational power.

Sometimes internet content that disappears can still be found on the Wayback Machine at Last I checked, however, many newspapers seem to be bad about this, changing their article addresses after a year or two in some archiving process.

in some archiving process.

end of line.

Placebo said at September 28, 2010 9:48 PM:


"It is selectively enabling smarter people to have more kids. "

Where is the data?

The Octomom seems to be a strong data point opposing that hypothesis.

Engineer-Poet said at September 30, 2010 7:43 AM:

She's an extreme outlier.  Most dumb people don't have her financial resources (which she did not earn).

HELLO said at December 13, 2011 4:21 PM:

wait. so is this person saying that the reason ivf children are so smart is because their parents are?? so...its passed down? doesnt seem plausible -____-

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