Page URL:

Genetics of success revealed by large study

16 July 2018
Appeared in BioNews 958

A person's genes can partly predict their likelihood of success in life, according to a new study.

Many previous studies have found correlations between indicators of 'success' such as education level, wealth and income and particular genetic markers. However, it is difficult to separate the influence of genes from that of the environment. For example, educational and income success could be a result of the parents' social class.

In this current study, published in PNAS, the researchers aimed to control for these environmental effects in order to find out the input that genes have.

They used data from five longitudinal studies (studies tracking the same people over many years) in the UK, the USA and New Zealand, and assessed factors such as occupation, education and wealth in more than 20,000 people.

Lead study author Dr Daniel Belsky at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, told Newsweek: 'There are now hundreds of individual variations throughout the genome that are roughly associated with educational outcomes between people.'

The team used such genetic variations to generate a 'polygenic score' for an individual, which is a number based on possession of genetic markers which are thought, based on previous studies, to be associated with educational and other success.

They found, not unexpectedly, that people with higher polygenic scores tended to have grown up in wealthier families, and with better educated parents. However, when controlling for these factors, they found that individuals were more likely to achieve upward mobility compared with their parents in terms of occupation, wealth, social position and education level if they had a higher polygenic score.

'Even though kids born into better-off families did tend to have slightly higher polygenic scores, higher scores predicted success no matter what kind of conditions a child grew up in,' Dr Belsky told Harvard Business Review.

Another way in which the researchers attempted to control potential confounding factors was by comparing siblings - specifically non-identical twins – directly, with the reasoning that twins would have a similar upbringing and social class. They found that the twin with the higher polygenic score was more likely to achieve greater success in later life.

Other comparisons showed that higher polygenic scores for mothers predicted higher educational attainment for her children, even when controlling for the child's own polygenic score.

The authors say that their results show that genetic correlation with success is not a coincidence. However, they pointed out that these differences still explained only a small amount of variation in social mobility.

'There's nothing in our study that says these genetic variants are a more powerful predictor of outcomes than family backgrounds,' said Dr Belsky.

28 October 2019 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
A new study suggests a 'gene drain' linked to social migration in Great Britain, where people with a genetic predisposition for higher educational attainment are more likely to leave former industrial regions and live in wealthier areas...
21 January 2019 - by Dr Rachel Montgomery 
A study attempting to clarify the ongoing 'nature vs nurture debate' has confirmed that the issue is complex - and that most conditions are probably caused by an interaction of both...
30 July 2018 - by Rikita Patel 
Genetic variants may influence how long people remain in school, according to a study of over 1 million genomes...
26 March 2018 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Good exam results may be down to genetics rather than attending selective schools, suggests a study of nearly 5,000 British students...
29 January 2018 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Parental genes can influence their children, even if the genes are not passed down at all, according to a new study...
30 May 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
A study of almost 80,000 people has identified 40 new genes linked to intelligence...
3 August 2015 - by Professor Darren Griffin 
A recent report on the heritability of exam results was a well written, clear and robust study in a highly socially relevant area, but a danger lies in how the results could be misinterpreted...
27 July 2015 - by Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash 
The educational achievement of British teenagers is highly heritable across a range of academic subjects, according to researchers at King's College London...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.