Why Is Educational Achievement Heritable?

Medical Xpress, October 6, 2014

New research, led by King’s College London finds that the high heritability of exam grades reflects many genetically influenced traits such as personality, behaviour problems, and self-efficacy and not just intelligence.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), looked at 13,306 twins at age 16 who were part of the Medical Research Council (MRC) funded UK Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). The twins were assessed on a range of cognitive and non-cognitive measures, and the researchers had access to their GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) scores.

In total, 83 scales were condensed into nine domains: intelligence, self-efficacy (confidence in one’s own academic ability), personality, well-being, home environment, school environment, health, parent-reported behaviour problems and child reported behaviour problems.

Identical twins share 100% of their genes, and non-identical twins (just as any other siblings) share 50% of the genes that vary between people. Twin pairs share the same environment (family, schools, teachers etc). By comparing identical and non-identical twins, the researchers were able to estimate the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors. So, if overall, identical twins are more similar on a particular trait than non-identical twins, the differences between the two groups are due to genetics, rather than environment.

Eva Krapohl, joint first author of the study, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s, says: “Previous work has already established that educational achievement is heritable. In this study, we wanted to find out why that is. What our study shows is that the heritability of educational achievement is much more than just intelligence–it is the combination of many traits which are all heritable to different extents.

“It is important to point out that heritability does not mean that anything is set in stone. It simply means that children differ in how easy and enjoyable they find learning and that much of these differences are influenced by genetics.”

The researchers found that the heritability of GCSE scores was 62%. Individual traits were between 35% and 58% heritable, with intelligence being the most highly heritable. Together, the nine domains accounted for 75% of the heritability of GCSE scores.

Heritability is a population statistic which does not provide any information at an individual level. It describes the extent to which differences between children can be ascribed to DNA differences, on average, in a particular population at a particular time.


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  • proud white

    How many here would let a black doctor cut into them? He received affirmative action with lower grades and scores but he passed the boards so he must be as good right?

    • Who Me?

      Actually, I have my doubts, but even if he was as good , given how much hatred non-Whites have for Whites, even when they hide it very well, I don’t want to let one loose on my unconscious body with a knife. (Or one of my loved ones–or even one of my pets for that matter. So no black vets for my little guys.)

      • Sick of it

        I’m pretty sure a black doctor or dentist would use something other than a scalpel on his unconscious patients, if you know what I mean.

        • Who Me?

          Like that isn’t even worse?

    • Good point, The way they love to push minorities out with doctrine, Just to look they can learn, Well im sure they can. But some times what takes 4yrs to learn can take another 8yrs. And no I will not see a black doctor, Latino may be, Asian yes. Black doctor, I would say yes if it was not for some forced programs, I don’t think dumbing down the education system is the answer as Washington see it. I think that longer schooling for some people till they get it right would be. Every one deserves a living as well there choice of what and how they want to earn a living to take care of ones self and family. But is should be earned, not given away and if it take one 2x 3x 5x longer to get there degree or diploma then so be it. but don’t dumb down the education system…..I think my comment may be too late but im saying it anyway.

      • Sick of it

        Hispanic/Latino can include perfectly capable white doctors.

        • yes they are, Most of the Latino’s I know are some of the hardest working ass busting people I know. Many young Americans should take note of these good people. Yes there are quite a few bad eggs but this can be said with most people. But I find the majority of Latino’s I know have very very strong family ties, and again many mainly young Americans should take note.

    • Jessica Lee

      No way José!

      • proud white

        Jessica you are right, look at what the Harvard Professor of medicine said below this comment

    • APaige

      Not me. And that is the way is stop affirmative action and the blind quest for diversity. Ask patients if they believe to lowering standards to help Blacks and Hispanics. If they answer ‘Yes’ tell them their operation is through door A. When they ask what is behind door B, tell them it is the best surgical team the hospital could hire. The look and quick answer change would be wonderful to see.

    • pcmustgo

      a black roommate I had had a black brain surgeon boyfriend once… jamaican…

    • Harvard Professor of Medicine

      Black med school students have significantly lower MCAT scores. They also have lower USMLE scores on average. I am quite certain that they have an easier time into competitive residencies. Surgery has a very competitive “pyramid” structure where a certain number of surgical residents have to switch over to medicine.

      • propagandaoftruth

        So surgeons are like the top, the best? How does it work?

        Do those deemed not up for surgery get encouraged to go into other areas, like general practice?

        Sorry, lots of questions, but…one more.

        All other things held equal, you don’t know the guy who’s cutting on you, would you be more apprehensive if he/she were black? Just wondering.

        • DaveMed

          General surgery is nowhere near the most competitive field. Dermatology, Ophthalmology, ENT, and Plastic Surgery are some of the more competitive fields.

          • proud white

            also neurosurgery and radiology oncology and radiology.

        • proud white

          surgery is mildly competitive like davemed said. some surgery subspecialties are competitive and some are less competitive like trauma surgery.

          • JP Rushton

            The guy who did my surgery sure didn’t work 80-100 hours per week. He only did surgeries a couple of days a week.

            A fun side note; he corrected my grammar while I was in recovery. Yeah, guy, I know you have about a standard deviation on me and I’m heavily sedated. But thanks for reminding me.

          • proud white

            good one. I’m saying that in residency surgeons work a lot. after that is probably depends on what type of specialty you are in.

      • DaveMed
      • DaveMed

        Also, I don’t believe the pyramid structure exists anymore (at least, in the majority of residency programs).

      • proud white

        Thank you for shedding light on the situation. That is what I thought all along. I don’t know why we can’t have the best. Why do we need to diversify when in reality that means not taking the best.

  • Daniel

    I think many people are unaware of just how much variation in psychological traits is due to heredity. Besides IQ, things like dyslexia, ADHD, mathematical ability, etceteros, are all highly heritable.

  • MekongDelta69

    It must be ‘White Privilege‘. Right?!

    • Triarius

      If by “white privilege” you mean an higher average IQ and impulse control, then yes. That’s my response to liberals, never get a reply back though.

  • disqus_Xz3UA6obwj

    The brain is a biological organ controlled by genes like all the other parts of our anatomy. It is obvious to me that genes play a far greater role in determining our behavior than environment.

    • B.A_2014

      Intelligence has nothing to do with genes. Genes are fascist little things according to . . .Richard Dawkins ( The darwinian anti evolutionary scientist.) It’s to believe in a lot of scientists today considering many of them especially those within fields where there may be social ramifications are hard leftists.

      • B.A_2014

        Darwinian when he debates with the religious. Anti evolutionary when speaking about race and sex differences.

        • WR_the_realist

          I am consistently Darwinian. Maybe there is a God, but if so, He allowed life to evolve as a consequence of the fundamental laws He created.

      • disqus_Xz3UA6obwj

        Dawkins may be dogma free when it comes to facing religion honestly, but he is obviously not dogma free when it comes to facing the issue of race honestly, provided what you say is true.

  • Pig Skin

    Einstein must have been racist for all of his discoveries. Otherwise he would have let a brother discover them.

    • Triarius

      You mean Olinto De Pretto and all the other scientists he ripped off?

      • Independent Thinker

        Einstein did not “rip off” other scientists to get his ideas, he may have been influenced by other scientists to get some of his ideas (just as all other scientists are) but he didn’t just steal other people’s research papers and put his name on them. Also it has not been proven that Einstein was aware of De Pretto’s work and De Pretto did not conceive the Theory of Relativity or use it in the derivation of his result.

        • Triarius

          De Pretto published his theory of relativity in a internationally recognized scientific journal 2 years before Einstein. That is fact.

  • Adolf Verloc

    This is an excellent study: large, detailed and well-designed. Unfortunately it will be ignored by nurture-fanatics as so many others have been. I was on a science board yesterday where one poster (white) thinks that this proves that the National Academy of Sciences is incorrigibly racist.

    • LHathaway

      I’m a nurture fanatic.

      • Adolf Verloc

        It’s hard to come up with a good short name for those who believe that genetics has nothing to do with intelligence, character, etc. “Environmentalist” is already taken.

        • Triarius

          How about “liberals”?

        • LHathaway

          Well, if we accept the finding here in this experiment, intelligence (the trait by far most heritable) is 75% heritable? Most studies have put the correlation closer to 50-50 but I can accept the experiment shown here for the point of argument

          What about the other 25%? 25% is the difference between a 100 IQ and an IQ of 75. Any kid who shirks from their duty to apply themselves will be overtaken by another who does their best..

          Children should be allowed to reach their full potential whatever that might be.

          What is the point of latching on to ‘intelligence’ when it comes to race? If true, best case scenario, whites are in the middle, less intelligent than billions of Asians in the world. The fact you seem so eager to prove to the world race and intelligence correlate, isn’t a sign of some neutrality or ‘race realism’, it simply reveals you’re obsessed with blacks and are apparent disinterested in Asians.

          Worst case scenario, it will come to light that whites have no greater intelligence on average than Blacks or Hispanics. There is a lot of room on the bottom.

          The fact lefties control the media and education K-20 and yet you boldly proclaim that environment and socialization matter not at all, only birth matters, is simply proof they have you exactly where they want you, blinded and lobotomized.

          • Sick of it

            I didn’t realize Asians invented everything. In fact, I was under the impression that we have to keep teaching them how to build modern facilities…or just design and build them on their behalf.

          • LHathaway

            Hey, at least we have so positive trade balances. At least some American companies are doing extremely well overseas.

          • Adolf Verloc

            If you read the study you will find that the researchers were interested in academic success, not raw IQ. Not surprisingly, academic success is highly heritable and is highly correlated with “g.” Your idea of hard-working, highly motivated dullards is ridiculous to anyone who has had much contact with children. People with an IQ of 75 are going to wind up unloading cases of Coca-Cola at Krogers no matter how much pre-school they get.

            As far as where the races stack up in the IQ sweepstakes, I’m content to let the chips fall where they may. And I also think that children should be educated to their full potential. But for some, that means that they will be unloading trucks, not splitting the atom.

        • Atheist Realist


        • Who Me?

          How about “Stupid”?

  • dd121

    Given this is all so obvious and consistent with science, I don’t see how leftist ideology that proclaims there are no differences, can get any traction at all. I can only conclude that liberals are willfully stupid.

    • Ike Eichenberg

      Liberalism is a mental disorder characterized by delusional beliefs.

      • dd121

        Or their belief system is full of magical thinking.

  • Even excluding heritable traits, blacks are still left short by nurture, because they have black parents who don’t involve themselves in their education, don’t keep reading material around their homes, don’t take intellectually stimulating family vacations, don’t visit museums or art galleries, and don’t support their kids in intellectually stimulating hobbies. My daughter is now an astronomy buff; that was a no-brainer, as I still had my old college astronomy books, a pair of Royal Air Force “Sky Search” binoculars, and we often have clear night skies here. When was the last time anyone here saw a black “fambly” at a planetarium show? I never have.

    What we have then is a race of people who were not only cut short by nature but then also immediately raised in an intellectual wasteland. I don’t know about black standards of prenatal nutrition among pregnant women, but my guess is that it isn’t very good. The odds are that 14 year-old LaTrine subsists on the same fast food and garbage snacks while pregnant that she ate before she met her sperm-donor. That’s got to have an effect as well, as I suspect that there are more nutritional things for the brain development of a growing fetus than Big Macs, Cheetos, pork rinds and “purpa drank”.

    • LHathaway

      There’s a fear that minority children are getting diabetes almost from birth. Half of all cases of diabetes seem to be genetic, but some children from ages almost as young as 2 and 3 are consuming more sugar per day than is recommended for a full grown adult.

    • Sick of it

      They eat junk food and usually use some kind of drug (while pregnant). Particularly marijuana.

    • Adolf Verloc

      Murray and Herrnstein made the point that even considering that a part of academic success is environmentally determined, that doesn’t mean that it is easy to change it after early childhood. By the time a kid gets to school, his or her experiences at home with reading, interest in intellectual matters and the like are going to determine a lot of their academic success. Early childhood education might help some, but it will probably not be enough to overcome the influence of a home where the only entertainment is the TV.

      • I suspect many black parents use television as a sort of babysitter. The problem there is GIGO – “garbage-in, garbage-out” – on an entire social and ethnic scale.

  • LHathaway

    Black mother’s are more likely to live in inner city area’s, lots more pollution. Breast milk means you’re getting whatever the mother has ingested, and whatever she has been exposed to, whoever she might be.

  • OS-Q

    You are right, mostly.

    Did you ever see the old movie “Bedtime for Bonzo”? It was based on a real scientist who tried to raise a chimpanzee with his own child because he believed completely in the Tabula Rasa or blank slate theory of intelligence and personality. The chimp wound up no smarter than a usual chimp. The scientist’s kid, however, started acting more and more like the chimp, so the scientist scrapped the project quickly. Genetics set an upper limit on intelligence really.

    • Sick of it

      Sounds like what the powers that be have done to our school system.

  • OS-Q

    How it was explained to me was: stuff a kid who could be a genius, a kid who could be average, and a kid below average into an attic for a couple decades, and they would all come out equally helpless.