Analysis Of Russia’s PISA 2009 Results

A few months ago I posted a table and map of Russian IQ’s as derived from regional PISA performance. Those figures are based on Jarkko Hautamäki’s slideshow comparing regional PISA performance in Finland and Russia.

That material is a bit inadequate because, as had been my custom up that point, I was only making IQ estimates based on the Math and Science components of the PISA tests, and avoiding Reading to maintain reverse compatibility with my (now disused, in favor of just IQ) Human Capital Index. In light of some realizations that verbal IQ is no less important than numerical, I have updated the figures to include the verbal component as well. This doesn’t create any radical changes – the overall IQ only drops by 0.3 points – so I reuse the same map.

(Note that the legend on the map isn’t converted to IQ. “PISA scores, mean 500, SD 100, have to be transformed into IQ values, mean 100, SD 15, by adding or subtracting the deviation from the mean in the relationship 100 : 15 = 6,67.”)


There are any numbers of comments one can make, but I will confine myself to the most important ones:

(1) In some regions, margins of error are high, as samples were low. Nonetheless, it is still possible to identify some concrete patterns. The overall estimate is very accurate because the sample was N=5,308 and representatively distributed across the country.

(2) Moscow pupils performed very well, at the level of the highest scoring OECD countries like Finland, Taiwan, and Korea. This is especially impressive considering the significant numbers of immigrants in that city from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, who come from poorly-scoring countries and rarely have good Russian. This is surely the result of a century of attracting Russia’s (the USSR’s) cognitive elite.

(3) St.-Petersburg and Tyumen oblast performed above the OECD average, while a few other regions performed at or only slightly below the OECD average.

(4) Among ethnic Russian republics, Siberian regions performed well, while the Urals and southern regions performed badly.

(5) Performance in ethnic minority republics differs dramatically. Many of the Turkic and Finno-Ugric regions, such as Tatarstan, Komi, Chuvashia, and Karelia did well; however, Mari El is a big exception. The Buddhist peoples of Asia, such as Chita oblast (now merged into Zabaykalsky Krai) and the Sakha Republic, performed relatively poorly, as did the Muslim North Caucasus region of Dagestan. Chechnya and Ingushetia would probably score around very low – probably in the mid-80’s. We can be pretty confident about that because their unemployment rates are nearly 50% despite tons of federal transfers.

Bear these figures in mind when considering long-term investments into Russia alongside with their business climate, corruption levels, etc.

PISA-derived IQ of Russian regions

The results by each of the 44 Russian regions which participated in PISA are reproduced below:

Moscow 106.6
Saint-Petersburg 102.6
Tyumen oblast 100.6
Novosibirsk 100.0
Chelyabinsk oblast 99.7
Omsk oblast 99.3
Samara oblast 99.2
Vladimir oblast 98.9
Tula oblast 98.6
Karelia 98.1
Tatarstan 98.1
Komi 98.0
Tomsk oblast 97.9
Primorie krai 97.2
Krasnoyarsk 97.1
Chuvashia 97.0
Udmurtia 96.4
Sakhalin oblast 96.4
Saratov oblast 96.0
Tambov oblast 95.9
Moscow oblast 95.6
Volgograd oblast 95.5
Vologda oblast 95.3
Kemerovo oblast 95.3
Altai krai 94.9
Astrakhan oblast 94.8
Ryazan oblast 94.7
Kursk oblast 94.6
Khanty-Mansijsk 94.2
Bashkortostan 93.4
Krasnodar 93.3
Perm krai 93.3
Rostov oblast 93.3
Nizhnij Novgorod 93.1
Voronezh oblast 92.7
Orenburg oblast 92.7
Kaluga oblast 91.7
Sverdlovsk oblast 91.6
Ulyanovsk oblast 91.5
Adygea 91.2
Stavropol 91.0
Mari El 90.1
Dagestan 88.7
Chita oblast 88.5
Sakha (Yakutia) 87.7

Correlation with economic development

Doing the same exercise as I once did with Italy, the exponential correlation between IQ and GDP per capita (adjusted to reflect local prices; 2008) turns out to be R2=0.5262, if we only take into account those regions whose economies aren’t skewed by substantial natural resource sectors.

This is not as good as Italy’s R2=0.7302, but the result is still an amazingly good one in social sciences. In fact in Russia’s case it’s all the more impressive because its economy was for the most part built up under central planning, which isn’t as good as markets at allocating resources efficiently.

Even under a command economy, the principle still holds: Higher average IQ, higher human capital, greater productivity, greater GDP pre capita.

Other data on the Russian average IQ

(1) The PISA-derived IQ is 96.0.

(2) Richard Lynn estimates Russia’s average IQ to be 96.6 in his 2012 book Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences.

(3) Heiner Rinderman estimates it at 97.3 in a 2009 paper.

The two most comprehensive authorities on international IQ’s, as well as the most comprehensive international standardized test, are all in agreement that Russia’s current average IQ is in the 96-98 range.

Other data on Russian regional IQ

(1) Map of average Unified State Exam (USE) scores among Russians admitted to institutions of higher education in 2010.

This is a biased sample because it only measures those Russians who were admitted to a university in 2010. It is not indicative of average regional IQ.

Data from Межвузовское исследование «Успеваемость студентов первого курсавысших учебных заведений России».

(2) Here is the same data by Federal District. They are, in order: Volga; North-West; Siberia; Central; Urals; Far East; North Caucasus.

(3) The share of “Olympians” (basically students who did really well and get benefits) in the annual university cohort. By region from top to bottom: Northern Caucasus; South; Far East; Volga; Urals; Siberia; North-West; Central.

There is nothing surprising about this. The Central Federal District contains Moscow. The North-West Federal District contains Saint-Petersburg, and I also suspect that ethnic Russians from the North-West region also have the highest IQ potential of all Great Russians because of admixture with Finno-Ugrics. (Finns and ethnic Estonians both have very high PISA scores).

(4) Unfortunately, Russia does not release regional average USE scores. It does this on purpose to avoid inciting ethnic enmity. (Basically, some regions – most of them non-Russian ones – systematically cheat and inflate their USE scores).

(However, I do recall visiting a site showing the number of people from each region who scored a 100/100 on USE subjects such as the Russian language, math, etc. It is a very rigorous exam and getting full marks on a subject like math is exceedingly hard; only a few hundred manage to do it every year if memory serves right. As IQ distributions are bell curves, it should be theoretically possible to get some idea of regional IQ’s by looking at the perfect scorers per capita rate. To do this however I will need to locate that site.)

Other EE Nations

The Ukraine didn’t participate in PISA 2009, but extrapolating from its TIMSS scores, its IQ would be around 93.1. Belarus would probably be considerably higher, because (1) they are basically genetically identical to Great Russians and Poles, and (2) they have done economically better than Ukraine since the 1990’s despite keeping much of their economy state-owned.

This section will be updated with info on other countries in the near future. 

Slavic Genetic IQ Ceiling

The Slavic genetic ceiling appears to be around 100 based on the Czechs and Poles. The average height of young Russian men is about 175cm compared to 179cm-180cm among the Central-Europeans (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks). This discrepancy likely arose from the fact that Russia’s (and Ukraine’s) post-Communist transitions were far more catastrophic than those of the Poles and Czechs, involving a major deterioration in quality of nutrition during the 1990’s when the PISA 2009 cohort was growing up.

Russia’s meat consumption per capita (kg).

Russian nutrition has already returned to First World levels however; for instance, meat , fish, fruit, etc. consumption is now basically the same as in Europe or the US. This means that in the next decade I expect the Flynn Effect to kick off in Russia’s favor, raising its average IQ levels to their theoretical peak of 100 by the 2020’s.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. La Griffe du Lion has shown that verbal IQ is the relevant metric for predicting GDP.

    • Makes sense. For the same productivity, better verbal skill mean better salesmanship and high value generation in the trade.

      Actually this will support Anatoly’s claim that China GDP was under-estimated.

    • Perhaps but I think that using a combination of measures is best.

      For instance, as we’re speaking of Russia here, its PIRLS 4th grade Reading score was 565 which beats all the other countries in that exercise and translates to a verbal IQ of 110. This is not plausible.

      • Russians are readers, so I find this plausible. My oldest could recite lines and lines of Pushkin by the 4th grade.

  2. Sakha Republic is not buddist region. Sakha people are mostly Russian Orthodox, some atheist and traditional beliefs. They make 45% of population.

    In Buryiatia, ethnic buryats make ~1/3 of population, in Karelia, the karels are 1/10 or even lower.

  3. Ukrainians, Poles, and southern Russians are all identical genetically. Northern Rusisans (those north of Moscow – that is, from St. Petersburg and Novgorod regions, and from the Russian heartland cities such as Tver, Yaroslavl, etc). are genetically distinct from Poles, Ukrainians, and southern Russians. The northern Russians are basically a mixture of Slavs and Finns:

    So, genetically (but not culturally), Poles, Ukrainians and Russians south of Moscow are one people; Russians north of Moscow are genetically a different people, Slavic-Finnic meztisos. This is in terms of paternal ancestry.

    • Yes, this is correct.

      However, Ukraine consistently does worse than Russia on international standardized tests (TIMMS, PIRLS). It also reads much less which also indicates a lower IQ. Lynn assesses the gap at 1.6 points and Rinderman at 4.3 points. Why this is so is a puzzle. After all they have the same style of education systems, the same (broadly similar) level of socio-economic development, etc.

      Russia benefits from Moscow, and perhaps the North Russians – a genetically distinct group, as both you point out and I in my post – are somewhat cleverer than ordinary Russians. On the other hand Russia has quite a lot of low-scoring minorities while Ukraine is homogeneously Slavic.

      Could it be diet? Maybe. Ukraine did after all have a bigger collapse. I recall reading somewhere that the average height of the Russian man is 177cm to the Ukrainian 175cm. Maybe that explains the difference?

      • Maybe there is light during the day because the sun is up. I know you don’t want to believe that IQ is environmental but sadly that is the truth.

        • Don’t ascribe me views I don’t hold. I have never said that environment doesn’t have a major influence on IQ.

          • No, but you do believe that the difference in IQ between groups is due to genetics

            • Again, that is wrong.

              I believe that the difference in IQ between groups is due to both genetics and environmental factors.

              Alternatively, one could say that I believe the difference in potential maximum IQ between groups is due to genetics.

              • But the fact shows that differences between groups are so overwhelmed by environmental factors that claims that it can be explained by genetics are difficult to hold

              • Now we’re getting somewhere.

                Now here I disagree. African-Americans share broadly the same environment as do whites. They do not have a problem with access to nutrition, and state spending per black student is actually slightly bigger.

                The difference however has stabilized and Blacks are consistently 1 SD below whites. Furthermore, the difference is greatest precisely on the most culture-neutral and g-loaded tests.

                Anyhow, I might as well make this a new post. We can continue the discussion there.

              • They only share the same physical environment, not the cultural.

      • Ukraine did experience a brain drain to St. Petersburg during the imperial years (Gogol being the most famous example). But environemnt accounts for much of it I’d guess.

  4. ironrailsironweights says

    Why are scores low in some of the Buddhist regions?

  5. I understand some arctic people in Russian Siberia may have low iq, they’re not East Asian ethnically. What about the East Asians in Russia, that is, the Mongol-speaking Kalmyks and Buryats. I see Kalmykia and the Buryat republic are blank on the first map. I’m interested in Kalmykia which located in the European part of Russia. It’s supposed to be an international center of chess, right?

    • I agree that Kalmyk and Buryat data would be interesting, but I don’t find Mongolic ethny in Russia to form an obvious unit with (Sinosphere) East Asians in clear exclusion of Arctic Siberians. Genetic data suggest otherwise (see, e.g., the “Siberian” component in the Dodecad project’s K10a admixture spreadsheet). That case would be better if we were talking about Shirongolic speakers, but even down into Qinghai-Gansu elevated “Siberian” (relative to a Han, even CHB Bejing Han, baseline) is evident. Additionally, all Mongolic peoples sampled to date seem to have non-Mongoloid ancestry (of West Eurasian and, to a lesser degree, South Asian sorts) in the region of 5-10%.