When you start talking about genes and education, often people will start having all kind of itches. This new study not only looks at the influence of genes on education, but even finds that the same genetic score that has predicting power for academic achievement – always to a certain extent – also has predictive power on labor market outcomes.
But sociologists don’t have to fear. This study isn’t about nature conquering nurture, as the study actually proves that childhood SES is a very important factor. I often summarize it as follows: in perfect conditions the biggest influence would certainly be genetic, but the worse the environment is, the bigger the influence of nurture.
Some could suggest that bringing genetics into this area sounds strange, a discussion we often see when discussing including intelligence in this kind of research. Still, I think that including these kinds of factors can only benefit social studies, helping us getting babysteps closer to understand the complexity of the world.
Abstract of the report:
Recent advances have led to the discovery of specific genetic variants that predict educational attainment. We study how these variants, summarized as a genetic score variable, are associated with human capital accumulation and labor market outcomes in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We demonstrate that the same genetic score that predicts education is also associated with higher wages, but only among individuals with a college education. Moreover, the genetic gradient in wages has grown in more recent birth cohorts, consistent with interactions between technological change and labor market ability. We also show that individuals who grew up in economically disadvantaged households are less likely to go to college when compared to individuals with the same genetic score, but from higher-SES households. Our findings provide support for the idea that childhood SES is an important moderator of the economic returns to genetic endowments. Moreover, the finding that childhood poverty limits the educational attainment of high-ability individuals suggests the existence of unrealized human potential.