September 19, 2018

Genes related to education found to be linked with social mobility

Previous studies have found a genetic association with factors of social mobility, such as educational attainment and economic success. In a study published by PNAS, researchers examine the association further to understand potential biological and/or environmental pathways.

By replicating analyses across five different longitudinal studies, including Add Health, researchers were able to argue that the relationship is genuine. They found that that a person’s education-linked genetics consistently predicted a change in their social mobility, even after accounting for social origins. Additionally, results demonstrated that a mother’s genetics predicted the child’s social mobility which suggests that there may be a gene-environment correlation.

Findings from this study support that genetics is just one of several mechanisms through which social mobility is passed across generations. As more genetic data become available and are incorporated into research on social mobility, programs and policies can begin changing children’s environments to reflect the advantages already present among those children who inherit more education-linked genetics. Dan Belsky, the study’s first author, told The News & Observer:

“The goal of our research is to use genetics to better understand how human attainment is achieved, and ultimately helping find interventions on our environment than help everyone reach success. … If it turns out these kids do better in school because they have parents who expose them earlier to more intellectual stimulation or challenge them in particular ways, then we can think of practices to promote this kind of parenting.”


This article was featured in The News & Observer: Do your genes hold the secret to your success? Duke and UNC researchers explain.

View the abstract or download the complete article from PNAS.

For more information on genetic data from Add Health that were used in this study see our Polygenic Scores User Guide.


  • Daniel W. Belsky, Social Science Research Institute, Duke University
  • Benjamin W. Domingue, Stanford University
  • Robbee Wedow, University of Colorado – Boulder
  • Louise Arseneault, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College London
  • Jason D Boardman, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado – Boulder
  • Avshalom Caspi, Duke University, King’s College London
  • Dalton Conley, Princeton University
  • Jason M. Fletcher, Center for Demography of Health and Aging, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Jeremy Freese, Stanford University
  • Pamela Herd, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Terrie E. Moffitt, Duke University, King’s College London
  • Richie Poulton, University of Otago
  • Kamil Sicinski, Center for Demography of Health and Aging, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Jasmin Wertz, Duke University
  • Kathleen Mullan Harris, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill