Genetic Variations Linked with Social, Economic Success

Association for Psychological Science, June 6, 2016

Psychological characteristics link genes with upward social mobility, according to data collected from almost 1000 individuals over four decades. The data suggest that various psychological factors play a role in linking a person’s genetic profile and several important life outcomes, including professional achievement, financial security, geographic mobility, and upward social mobility.

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The study, led by psychological scientist Daniel W. Belsky of Duke University School of Medicine, builds on previous research indicating a genetic continuum that predicts individuals’ educational achievement.

In the earlier study, the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium examined millions of genetic variants in more than 100,000 people and found that these variants could be aggregated and turned into a “polygenic score” that was linked with educational attainment. Participants with polygenic scores above zero were more likely to complete more years of schooling, whereas those with scores below zero were likely to complete fewer years of schooling.

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Belsky and colleagues capitalized on longitudinal data from the Dunedin Study, an ongoing study that has followed individuals in New Zealand from birth through their fourth decade. The study includes a representative sample and has had a very low dropout rate.

Over the course of the study, participants have completed assessments evaluating their developmental milestones in childhood; their traits, behaviors, and aspirations through adolescence; and their attainments and outcomes in adulthood.

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The researchers found that individuals with higher polygenic scores were more likely to move away from home in search of professional opportunities, they built more successful careers, they were better at managing their money, and they had spouses with higher levels of education and greater earnings.

Importantly, the results indicated that higher polygenic scores were associated with social mobility–children with higher polygenic scores tended to achieve more socioeconomic success even if they were born into families that were relatively poor.

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