“Genes and family are biggest predictor of academic success”, well duh?

Most of what we develop and achieve is probably due to a complex interaction between both nature and nurture, and if you try to combine one of the biggest elements in the environment – family and their SES – with genetics, it would be strange not to find a good prediction of academic success. Still, the combination while being a powerful predictor is not an absolute predictor, e.g. your own will can also be of interest, the environment is more than your situation, how the interactions play out,…

Luckily there is more to this new study than this, from the press release:

The study, led by the University of York, found that parents’ socioeconomic status and children’s inherited DNA differences are powerful predictors of educational achievement.

However, the research suggests that having the genes for school success is not as beneficial as having parents who are highly educated and wealthy. Only 47% of children in the study sample with a high genetic propensity for education but a poorer background made it to university, compared with 62% with a low genetic propensity but parents that are more affluent.

The researchers found that children with a high genetic propensity for education who were also from wealthy and well-educated family backgrounds had the greatest advantage with 77% going to University. Meanwhile, only 21% of children from families with low socioeconomic status and low genetic propensity carried on into higher education.

The findings of the study may help to identify children most at risk of poor educational outcomes, the researchers suggest.

Lead author of the study, Professor Sophie von Stumm from the Department of Education at the University of York said: “Genetics and socioeconomic status capture the effects of both nature and nurture, and their influence is particularly dramatic for children at the extreme ends of distribution.

“However, our study also highlights the potentially protective effect of a privileged background. Having a genetic makeup that makes you more inclined to education does make a child from a disadvantaged background more likely to go to university, but not as likely as a child with a lower genetic propensity from a more advantaged background.

“While the findings of our study are observational, they do suggest that children don’t have equal opportunity in education because of their different genetics and family backgrounds. Where you come from has a huge impact on how well you do in school.”

The study looked at data from 5,000 children born in the UK between 1994 and 1996. The researchers analysed their test results at key stages of their education as well as their parents’ educational level and occupational status.

The researchers used genome-wide polygenic scoring – a statistical technique which adds up the effect of DNA variants – to test how inherited genetic differences predict children’s educational success.

They found that children with high polygenic scores differed significantly in achievement at age seven from children with low polygenic scores. This achievement gap steadily widened between the groups throughout the school years leading to an equivalent difference in grades of an A- and a C- by the time children were taking their GCSEs.

Professor von Stumm added: “More research is required, but we hope that this paper will stimulate discussion around the potential to predict if children are at risk for poor academic outcomes – the basis of these discussions goes beyond purely scientific criteria to issues of ethics and social values.

“We hope that results like these can open doors for children, rather than close them, by stimulating the development and provision of personalised environments that can appropriately enhance and supplement a child’s education.”

Abstract of the study:

The two best predictors of children’s educational achievement available from birth are parents’ socioeconomic status (SES) and, recently, children’s inherited DNA differences that can be aggregated in genome‐wide polygenic scores (GPS). Here, we chart for the first time the developmental interplay between these two predictors of educational achievement at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16 in a sample of almost 5,000 UK school children. We show that the prediction of educational achievement from both GPS and SES increases steadily throughout the school years. Using latent growth curve models, we find that GPS and SES not only predict educational achievement in the first grade but they also account for systematic changes in achievement across the school years. At the end of compulsory education at age 16, GPS and SES, respectively, predict 14% and 23% of the variance of educational achievement. Analyses of the extremes of GPS and SES highlight their influence and interplay: In children who have high GPS and come from high SES families, 77% go to university, whereas 21% of children with low GPS and from low SES backgrounds attend university. We find that the associations of GPS and SES with educational achievement are primarily additive, suggesting that their joint influence is particularly dramatic for children at the extreme ends of the distribution.

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