Do You Overestimate Yourself? Everyone Else Does…

woman on a couch looking at her laptop and smiling

The New York Times had a story yesterday on their Freakonomics blog, in which people rated themselves in both looks and intelligence. Not surprisingly, most seemed to slightly overrate themselves. I wish they took a few more average people to get a broader perspective.

This reminds me of an experiment in which I asked a handful of people to rate themselves in four categories: Looks, Intelligence, Personality, and Career. No one judged themselves as less than a 7 in any single category. Most were 8s and 9s across the board.

No one judged themselves as less than a 7 in any single category. Most were 8s and 9s across the board.

That might mean that these were extraordinary people. More likely it means that we all have a slight disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. The good news is that having a combination of self-esteem and self-delusion seems to be exactly what allows us to function. How would we feel if we didn’t believe we’re above average in every single way? I’m not sure I’d want to know.

Anyway, since we’re all anonymous, what do you say we try the experiment here? Answer these 3 questions in the comments below:

Where do you rank yourself in Looks, Intelligence, Personality, Career?

How would you rank the “typical” person you date? Do you rank them higher or lower than you?

How do you think others would rank you behind your back?

If I have to participate (and I probably do), I’d give myself straight 7s. Maybe an 8.5 on intelligence, if I were to be embarrassingly honest. Maybe a 6.5 on career if I were to be more embarrassingly honest. But then, I do strive to achieve much more in life.

My typical girlfriends would be ranked a bit higher. Similar in looks, but generally impressive careers and great personalities.

And I don’t even want to know what others would say about me behind my back. I take back the question! But it is something to think about.

Anyway, I’d be curious to hear your answers below, as well as your thoughts on why it’s so hard for us to be objective about ourselves.


(BTW, if you’re really upset about the idea of “ranking”, or the fact that things like “kindness” aren’t on the list, your comments are duly noted. This is a very unscientific experiment.)

Join our conversation (109 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.


  1. 81

    on post #79

    Congratulations……You had a bright, intelligent, smart, dad…..

  2. 82

    on post #81 tell us men, how does one approach a woman of your caliber, and make a good impression?(leading to a first date)…

  3. 83
    The Reverend Terence Fformby-Smythe

    Low self esteem is rampant amongst most of my girlfriends and as a result, they allow themselves to be trapped in miserable relationships because they don’t think themselves worthy of anything better.
    do you know where I can find women with low self-esteem? I heard that they are easier to manipulate.

  4. 85

    to the rev on post #85

    I have been told, women with low self esteem get into relationships at a young age and stay there. Most don’t realize what they have done, until they turn 40 or 50 years of age.

  5. 86

    To Ben (#86):

    I bet most women know their ‘looks rating’ pretty well (whether they want to admit it or not), whereas I bet most men don’t have a clue.

    That’s because you can pretty well gauge the impression you’re making by the guys coming on to you.

    For men it’s a little trickier because women don’t pursue men as rabidly, and when they do they’re more subtle about it and don’t typically choose their targets strictly on the basis of appearance.

  6. 87

    I’ve been away, so please pardon the late reply.

    Looks: 5-6 I’m average to slightly above average in appearance, though when I take greater care (ie, makeup, hair, etc) then I’m more like a 7. On facestat 2 out of 3 pictures qualified as good looking, and 1 as not bad.

    Intelligence: 9 In school I was in the gifted program which required an IQ of at least 130 (ie, 98th percentile). Of course, I can always become more knowledgeable, but I have a good brain with which to work.

    Personality: 7-8 I’m tactful and get along with most everyone, but it takes me awhile before I warm up to people enough to let them see the more fun, witty, and lively me.

    Career: 6 As a teacher I’m in a professional field that earns relatively little money. But when compared with national medians for a family of 4…then it looks like I’m raking in the big bucks.

    The guys I’ve dated:

    Looks: 4-7
    Intelligence: 6-10
    Personality: 5-9
    Career: 5-10

    Of these 4 categories intelligence & personality issues are the top reasons why I’ve broken up with guys, followed by looks, and last career.

  7. 88

    “the BF tried to drop his Mensa membership into conversation once, I think during a job interview, and the person didn’t know what it was. So then he had to explain, and it got all awkward. There’s definitely a time and a place (and honestly, that place is almost never).”

    Definitely about gauging one’s audience, and THAT’S about “social intelligence.” (Which, I notice, is one of the things here NOT being “ranked”.)

    I did it once (mentioned my MENSA membership – hey; the guy asked me) after I was invited to join in grad school, on a date. The guy was a PhD and attorney, so I figured it was not a big deal. Never heard from him again.

    So never mentioned it on a date again either (among other “social intelligence” lessons from that particular statistical random sample).

    I think there’s another thread altogether in here about which “rankings” are relatively VALUED by either gender, but we’ve got several topics in here already and as important as I think it, I have no intention to unduly derail.

  8. 89

    Ok this looks like a fun quiz:

    Looks – 3; I have a pretty face and hair but from the neck down, no.

    Intelligence – 8.  

    Career – 6; I’m employed by the State of Illinois which was once governed by George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.   I’m out of the clerical sphere and into the lower-t0-middle level management but I still haven’t cracked $50K a year.

    Personality – 9.   I’m only basing that on what my friends tell me.

    That 3 though; that’s a real killer.   Oh well.   It is what it is.

  9. 90

    Just wanted to add a comment based on personal experience. From what I’ve seen, a Mensa membership is not an automatic 9 or 10 in intelligence, not by a long shot. I took my teenage sons to the Annual Gathering last summer. They were highly unimpressed with the general public. They each went to 2-3 programs each day, and socialized some in the hospitality room, so they got enough exposure to form their opinions.
    Yeah, I’m a member, and my both kids qualify according to their school test results. No, I’m not going to rate myself. IMO rating is subjective anyway. In my age group, geographical location, and social group (Midwest geeks in their 40s) I may be a full ten in looks, but bring me to any beauty pageant, or, heck, into a group of women half my age, and watch me drop to a 2 or 3.
    There should be ways to gauge yourself, as well as the people you’re considering dating – I just don’t know exactly what they are, and I think this quiz probably isn’t one of them – like I said before, too subjective.

  10. 91

    Why would anyone seek out a MENSA membership?? Do you hope to put it on your resume? Is it something to reference if someone challenges your intellect? Is it a social network through which  you meet other intellectuals? That one actually makes sense…

  11. 92

    @ Liz #94, my oldest son was in 4th grade, and was having trouble getting along with his classmates. Because he’d been identified as gifted, I thought he might benefit from going to Mensa events. Since he couldn’t join himself b/c you have to be 14 to join, I joined instead, so I could bring him to events as family member. That’s the reason I joined; cannot speak for everyone on this thread. It did work for me as a social network, but that was a by-product – my main reason for joining was to try and see if my son would benefit.
    BTW from what I know it’s considered bad form to mention your membership in public, and a bad move to put it on your resume – the latter is actually a good way to ensure you won’t get the job 😉

  12. 93

    I’ve been glancing at everyone’s comments. It’s funny that everyone here sees themselves as an 8 or higher in intellegence.
    I’ve always thought I was far smarter than most people I meet but I’ve met enough people who make me feel like a mental midget that I’m inclined to say that I am farther down the scale than I would give myself credit for. I’d say I’m a solid 4.

    I’ve always dated 8s or 9s but my own looks don’t match up. I’m probably a 5. I make a really good living and that impresses women far more than my looks.

    My personality is decent but there are always funnier, livelier folks than myself. I’m probably a 4.

    My career pays very well. I earn in the top 2% of wage earners in this country. However, it is difficult work and is quite taxing and laborious. My career gets a 3.

  13. 94

    Eh, there’s intelligence, and there’s intelligence.   Some PhDs couldn’t find their  way out of a paper bag.

  14. 95

    I find it nearly  impossible to rank myself or even the men I used to date (have a bf now). But JJ #14 is right about Mensa- it’s just obnoxious to mention it if only because it’s misleading. It’s been established now there are many types of intelligence, dance, music ability, athletic ability, mechanical vs. abstract, etc.  

    The reason I’m having trouble with the intelligence ranking is I am unable to divorce it from wisdom, which is more important imo.  And it can take quite a while to get at someone’s wisdom.  

    I think the only way you can get at any sort of objective view of your intelligence, looks, personality is to rank according to your PEERS*. Those people who fall into your same category in every way. Having trouble articulating it, sorry….  

    *it’s too easy to rank yourself a 9 in looks if using the entire US population as your control group. Much harder if using your social class AND age AND women who make a habit of really taking care of their looks and body as I have for decades now. In many ways I compare very favorably to a lot of celebrities my age except my abs could be firmer as  I don’t have a personal trainer like they do! lol    

    Does this make any sense?  

  15. 96

    PS When dating noticed men ALWAYS overrate themselves in terms of their sense of humor. Always. Few were truly funny.

  16. 97

    Where do you rank yourself in Looks, Intelligence, Personality, Career?
    Looks –  8.  I have great hair, a pretty face, and am  not overweight.   I take great pride in my appearance so I look presentable.   I generally garner a large amount of unsolicited male attention…much to the chagrin of my current mate.

    Intelligence – 8.   I’m not a genius, but I am highly academically inclined and well-read.

    Personality – 6. Ay, there’s the rub.   I’m a very meticulous person and can be critical of others.   I’m also quite shy around strangers because I’m not one for small talk – unless I’m intoxicated.  This makes it hard to meet new people sometimes.  Once you get to know me, I’m very silly and sarcastic.   I’m also very loyal.

    Career – 7. Considering I live in the DC metropolitan area, I’m going to go with a 7 on this one.   The majority of people  in their mid-20’s  in this area are not faring as well as me.   There are, however, some that are doing exceptionally better.

    How would you rank the “typical” person you date? Do you rank them higher or lower than you?
    I would say they are overall a 6 or 7 based on the aforementioned mix.   They are better in some areas and lower in others depending on who they are.

    How do you think others would rank you behind your back
    All I know is what people have told me or what my boyfriend has told me.   His friends think I’m “hot”.   I’m sure if anyone thought otherwise, they wouldn’t say anything.   It’s hard to gauge.

  17. 98

    This submission is very self indulgent and confessional.   It is not particularly politically correct either.   Members of the female sex may find certain remarks challenging.
    I had a difficult late childhood and adolesence and did not rate myself highly enough in my 20’s when I finally escaped all male environments (boarding school, apprenticeship in heavy engineering factory) and the beatings stopped.   This definitely affected my dating behaviour as I saw myself as well below what was probably my real position but now I’m perfect.   Lack of interaction with girls also played it’s part – I had no sister.   I aimed to date ugly girls in what I thought was the league I deserved but it was the 8 and 9’s in a top university with a shortage of women who showed interest in me and sought me out.   They were the ones I actually had dates with but I couldn’t quite believe it.   After a 4 year drought, I married a 6 who was five years older than me for reasons of availability and safety.
    Personal ranking:
    Looks – Male 178 cm, (5’10”) BMI 25, in shape.   For a 61 year old against others of my age I rate 8 or 9.   My hair, although thinner than it was and grey is my own.   Eat that Berlusconi!   In terms of all comers 6.
    Intelligence – IQ on Stanford Binet tests taken throughout life 135-140, GMAT top 0.25% of those taking it who were already graduates.   Top 0.1% mathematically.   There are however cleverer people on the planet. Even for them transforming IQ into success in life is not a certainty.   Dyspraxia and slight dyslexia doesn’t help.   Has to be 9.
    Personality – I need validation and feedback from achievement to   compensate from the bullying all those years ago.   Otherwise, I am too insecure to call out bad behaviour from others in relationships.   Hung on to a bad marriage (or waited for children to grow up, both apply) for 25 years.   4.
    Career – Achievement 8.   Income was at one time top 0.25% of employed persons in UK.   Have patents for serious inventions.                            I lead teams developing the first products or types that make 100’s of millions (for other people).   Income now highly variable due to relatively new business venture.   So overall, 6/7 .
    Ranking my Woman
    Not many dates since University.   My Russian landlady and erstwhile fiancee, teh UK Border AGency permitting, is one of two strong connections I’ve made in the last 6 years.   I shall rank her.
    Looks – 173 cm (5’8″), BMI 21, not really in shape but a fabulous dresser.   She is known as good looking by the visual arts community across a large city.   Painters want to paint her even at 37.   10 for her age.   8 even 9 against all comers.
    Intelligence – She has the interests of an intelligent person but doesn’t really have the mental fire power to critique things herself.   She overvalues others’ opinions and resorts to stereotypes.   7.
    Personality – Somewhere on the less severe end of the autistic spectrum which is also common in my genetic family.   In her case I think the formal diagnosis would be schizoid personality disorder.   Finds it very hard to make attachments.   Had sex instead of relationships.   Now takes a long time to build trust and doesn’t have sex.   Has no female friends except her half sister.   Landlady scores 4 like me.
    Career – Never held a job for more than 6 months.   Failed at most things she’s tried but now has a niche as a short let landlord with an expanding collection of real estate.   Income poor – below average as she reinvests, asset rich + £2m which for a 37 year old who has been a single mother without a regular job since 24 is outstanding.   7.
    She picked me after a couple of years of close contact more than I picked her.   I now feel over validated and undeserving and a bit insecure.
    Me versus Her
    She’s a woman.   Her career doesn’t matter.   Her looks, which far exceed my needs even for validation and personality matter a lot.   I think we match.   She’s outstanding on looks.   I am on IQ.   Neither of us are short on the other, just not stellar.   These are appropriate balanced differences for female and male.   We are both fails on personality and question marks on career.
    Me ranked by Others
    3 to 9 depending on sex and attitudes to age.   Rival males will score me as 3, less is unrealistic as I am not short, bald or by UK standards, fat.   Women will say 6-9 depending on who else is around.   Height, lack of much excess weight and the way a person stands and moves when in shape attract most women irrespective of age.
    Very clever but less than I actually score because there is more to life than IQ and I try and screen it in real life.   It used to get me beaten up.   7.
    6 or 7 which is higher than my personal assessment.   I make a point of being positive and supportive to people around me.   When I am brought to a stop by depression (PTSD 50 years after the events) , I’m alone or with intimates.
    8 which is higher than my personal assessment.   My own mini multinational looks great from outside.
    EVAN.   VERY INTERESTING QUESTION.   TOMORROW I LOOK FOR A CLERGYMAN (I do not believe in the sincerity of paid therapists).

  18. 99

    I’m surprised how modest most of us are being. If you’re all 7s and 6s in looks, I must be a 3. The only heads I turn are store security personnel.  
    But I think we need to define our attractiveness standards. Is Woody Allen a 7 or a 3? Is Danny DiVito a 5 or a 1?!Is Zooey Deschanel  a 9.5 or a 7.5? (I’d say 9.5)
    Evan gave himself a 7 but I think he’s a 9. In my book, any woman who has a cute face and is in proportion is a 7 or better.  
    So maybe attach a celeb rating to your post so we know your parameters.

  19. 100
    Sparkling Emerald

    I am really mathematically challenged, so I’ve never been able to rate by #’s.   Growing up, me and one of my girlfriends used to rate guys looks by letter grades.   George Clooney & Brad Pit types would be A pluses, Evan would be a B plus.   Sorry Evan, but if a letter grade of B is 80-90 %, that makes you AT LEAST an 8, closer to a 9.   (OK, lets call you an 8.85) Your every day kinda cute guys would get a B or B minus.   Keep in mind, this a very unscientific rating system devised by 2 very silly HS girls on summer vacation.
    So tell me, on the number scale, is 5 average or is 7 average?   Is it age adjusted?
    Since I don’t do well mathematically, I usually think of women as drop dead gorgeous, beautiful, pretty or cute.   Drop Dead gorgeous, I’ve only seen in movies or beauty pagents.   To give you an idea of how I define beautiful, pretty or cute, let me give you a floral metaphor.   Beautiful would be comparable to a dozen long stemmed blood red roses, pretty would be daffodils, and cute would be daisies.
    On the “objective” scale, I suppose there really is a 1-10.   However, when it comes to our personal scales, I think there really is only 2 marks, zero or ten. When you are in love with someone, they become a ten in your eyes.   If someone doesn’t do anything for you, then they are a zero.   Shallow, narcissistic men, who think girls should just dig them for their good looks are a zero in my eyes, no matter what they look like.   I know that the men who’ve been in love with me, really overestimated my looks, they would rave about me being “GORGEOUS or BEAUTIFUL” which is fine by me :), but in reality, I’m just either kinda cute, or pretty cute, depending on how much effort I put in.   I’ve   was also   able to tell by the look on one of my online dates face, that he gave me a zero when he met me in person.   (Worst date ever).  
    Evan, I’m sure your wife would disagree about you being a 7 !

    1. 100.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Sparkling Emerald: “On the “objective” scale, I suppose there really is a 1-10. However, when it comes to our personal scales, I think there really is only 2 marks, zero or ten. When you are in love with someone, they become a ten in your eyes.”

      With great respect, this belief is part of the problem. I’m not going to say it’s the problem with women overall, but I think you’ve exemplified it here. The idea that a man is a zero or a ten. It’s not true. And belief that it is true is why so many women have trouble taking my advice to dial down the chemistry from a 10 to a 7. That gets read as, “I’m just supposed to go with some ugly guy with whom I have NO attraction?” Also untrue.

      Believe me: I love my wife more than life itself. But there are no shortage of younger, thinner, hotter women here in Los Angeles. And I don’t know if I’ve ever entered a room and been objectively the best looking guy there. As a result, I’d say that while we may be “7s”, our RELATIONSHIP is a 10, and that’s why it’s worth preserving. Please, get out of your all-or-nothing thinking. It’s unhealthy on a micro level and it’s toxic when an entire gender thinks of men as 0’s or 10’s.

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