Mensa Society is an organization of people whose IQ is in the top 2 percent of the general population. The Latin word mensa (/ˈmɛnsa/) means “table,” as symbolized in the logo, and was chosen to convey the organization’s round-table character; the meeting of equals.
The original aim was to provide a setting where highly intelligent individuals could meet each other for social interaction and intellectual exchange. With this as its goal, Mensa has no initiation rites or ceremonies, pays no fees to belong, and has no leaders. Its governance is democratic. All members over age 18 are listed in a directory that is published every two years. An elected council deals with the society’s business affairs, while local groups hold meetings at which lectures, demonstrations, workshops on special subjects, films, games, etc., are presented.
Mensa: A brief History
Mensa was founded in Oxford, England on September 19, 1946, by Roland Berrill (1910–2002) and Lancelot Lionel Ware (1907–1998). Its founders wanted an elite society based on merit rather than birthright, social class, honors earned at school, or membership in other organizations.
Berrill, a lawyer and graduate of New College, Oxford, and Ware, a science publisher who had been a master at Eton College, believed that the pattern for Mensa could be found among those students who maintained an active “debating society”. In founding Mensa as a society for high-scorers on psychological tests, Berrill and Ware aimed to create a forum where people from different backgrounds would have something in common. By this definition, it was not elite – although the first prospectus stated that it would reject applicants who were already members of any other society – but rather based on meritocracy.
The condition for becoming a member is scoring at or above the 98th percentile on certain standardized IQ or other approved intelligence tests.
The organization was not intended to be a political pressure group and has stayed this way through the decades. Mensa’s original aim was “the promotion of communication between persons of high intelligence for mutual collaboration in the pursuit of truth”. Many early members had gained high scores on published IQ tests before joining Mensa; many recent members have scored above the 98th percentile on tests administered by Mensa itself.
Berrill and Ware were also interested in non-intellective traits such as character, personality, and preferences, but these aspects are not considered when accepting new members. Since 1960 there has been a distinction between the two entrance conditions: The educational requirement stipulated that new members must come from a college-preparatory high school or complete one at their own expense; the alternative test score requirement stipulated that members must obtain a certain score on either an IQ test (usually Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale) or on a standardized test such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales.
Since 1991, applicants have been required to take tests from two different authorities – and no single authority can be named as sole qualifying agent for membership.”
Mensa International is a global organization with more than 134,000 members in 100 countries and 54 national clubs. The monthly journal of American Mensa, Mensa Bulletin, is published by the national groups, as are British Mensa’s monthly periodical, Mensa Magazine. Individuals who reside in a country with a recognized chapter may join the national group while those who live in countries without one may join Mensa International directly.
On the top of the national groups, Finland rules supreme, with 2,700 Mensa members out of a population of 5.4 million – roughly one in every 2,000 Finns is a member – while Sweden comes in second. Followed by the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, and Croatia.
The American Mensa (57,000 members), the British (21,000 members) and the Germans (15,000 members) are the most significant national organizations. Larger national organizations are divided into smaller local groups. For instance, there are 134 local gatherings for the American Mensa.