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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jul 31;115(31):E7275-E7284. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1801238115. Epub 2018 Jul 9.

Genetic analysis of social-class mobility in five longitudinal studies.

Author information

1
Department of Population Health Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC 27710; dbelsky@duke.edu kathie_harris@unc.edu.
2
Social Science Research Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708.
3
Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
4
Institute of Behavioral Science and Department of Sociology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309.
5
Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King's College London, SE5 8AF London, United Kingdom.
6
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708.
7
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC 27708.
8
Center for Genomic and Computational Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708.
9
Department of Sociology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.
10
La Follette School of Public Policy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706.
11
Center for Demography of Health and Aging, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706.
12
Department of Sociology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
13
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, 9016 Dunedin, New Zealand.
14
Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27516; dbelsky@duke.edu kathie_harris@unc.edu.
15
Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27516.

Abstract

A summary genetic measure, called a "polygenic score," derived from a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of education can modestly predict a person's educational and economic success. This prediction could signal a biological mechanism: Education-linked genetics could encode characteristics that help people get ahead in life. Alternatively, prediction could reflect social history: People from well-off families might stay well-off for social reasons, and these families might also look alike genetically. A key test to distinguish biological mechanism from social history is if people with higher education polygenic scores tend to climb the social ladder beyond their parents' position. Upward mobility would indicate education-linked genetics encodes characteristics that foster success. We tested if education-linked polygenic scores predicted social mobility in >20,000 individuals in five longitudinal studies in the United States, Britain, and New Zealand. Participants with higher polygenic scores achieved more education and career success and accumulated more wealth. However, they also tended to come from better-off families. In the key test, participants with higher polygenic scores tended to be upwardly mobile compared with their parents. Moreover, in sibling-difference analysis, the sibling with the higher polygenic score was more upwardly mobile. Thus, education GWAS discoveries are not mere correlates of privilege; they influence social mobility within a life. Additional analyses revealed that a mother's polygenic score predicted her child's attainment over and above the child's own polygenic score, suggesting parents' genetics can also affect their children's attainment through environmental pathways. Education GWAS discoveries affect socioeconomic attainment through influence on individuals' family-of-origin environments and their social mobility.

KEYWORDS:

genetics; polygenic score; social class; social mobility; sociogenomics

PMID:
29987013
PMCID:
PMC6077729
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1801238115
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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