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Psychol Sci. 2016 Jul;27(7):957-72. doi: 10.1177/0956797616643070. Epub 2016 Jun 1.

The Genetics of Success: How Single-Nucleotide Polymorphisms Associated With Educational Attainment Relate to Life-Course Development.

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Department of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine Social Science Research Institute, Duke University
Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine Center for Genomic and Computational Biology, Duke University MRC Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London.
Center for Genomic and Computational Biology, Duke University.
Graduate School of Education, Stanford University.
Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke University.
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Otago.


A previous genome-wide association study (GWAS) of more than 100,000 individuals identified molecular-genetic predictors of educational attainment. We undertook in-depth life-course investigation of the polygenic score derived from this GWAS using the four-decade Dunedin Study (N = 918). There were five main findings. First, polygenic scores predicted adult economic outcomes even after accounting for educational attainments. Second, genes and environments were correlated: Children with higher polygenic scores were born into better-off homes. Third, children's polygenic scores predicted their adult outcomes even when analyses accounted for their social-class origins; social-mobility analysis showed that children with higher polygenic scores were more upwardly mobile than children with lower scores. Fourth, polygenic scores predicted behavior across the life course, from early acquisition of speech and reading skills through geographic mobility and mate choice and on to financial planning for retirement. Fifth, polygenic-score associations were mediated by psychological characteristics, including intelligence, self-control, and interpersonal skill. Effect sizes were small. Factors connecting DNA sequence with life outcomes may provide targets for interventions to promote population-wide positive development.


adult development; behavior genetics; genetics; intelligence; personality

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