August 21, 2018

Add Health data used to examine genetic effects on education and smoking


Different generations experienced changing laws, policies, and public perceptions regarding smoking and education. For example, a 1964 Surgeon General’s Report describing the health hazards of smoking was issued and led to a decrease in tobacco use nationwide. Researchers working on a study recently published in American Sociological Review wanted to look at whether these types of changes in environment, determined by when a person was born, changes the relationship between educational attainment, smoking, and genetics.

This study used two datasets: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), whose participants were born between 1974 and 1983; and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), whose participants were born between 1920 and 1959. Results suggested that the genetic relationship between educational attainment and smoking was stronger among those participants who were born later. Though the study was supported by replication using the UK Biobank, which is a larger dataset than Add Health and HRS, the results were underpowered and could not prove a causal pathway.

This study exemplifies the growing field of sociogenomics and discusses how genetic research can be utilized as larger datasets which include genotyped data become available. Add Health contributes by disseminating genetic data through contractual data agreements.


  • Robbee Wedow, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Meghan Zacher, Harvard University
  • Brooke M. Huibregtse, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Kathleen Mullan Harris, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Benjamin W. Domingue, Stanford University
  • Jason D. Boardman, University of Colorado Boulder


View the abstract or download the complete article from American Sociological Review.

Wedow, R., Zacher, M., Huibregtse, B. M., Harris, K. M., Domingue, B. W., & Boardman, J. D. (2018). Education, smoking, and cohort change: Forwarding a multidimensional theory of the environmental moderation of genetic effects. American Sociological Review, 83(4), 802-832. doi:10.1177/0003122418785368