Genetics and the geography of health, behaviour and attainment


Belsky, Daniel W.; Caspi, Avshalom; Arseneault, Louise; Corcoran, David L.; Domingue, Benjamin W.; Harris, Kathleen Mullan; Houts, Renate M.; Mill, Jonathan S.; Moffitt, Terrie E.; & Prinz, Joseph, et al. (2019). Genetics and the geography of health, behaviour and attainment. Nature Human Behaviour.


Young people’s life chances can be predicted by characteristics of their neighbourhood. Children growing up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods exhibit worse physical and mental health and suffer poorer educational and economic outcomes than children growing up in advantaged neighbourhoods. Increasing recognition that aspects of social inequalities tend, in fact, to be geographical inequalities is stimulating research and focusing policy interest on the role of place in shaping health, behaviour and social outcomes. Where neighbourhood effects are causal, neighbourhood-level interventions can be effective. Where neighbourhood effects reflect selection of families with different characteristics into different neighbourhoods, interventions should instead target families or individuals directly. To test how selection may affect different neighbourhood-linked problems, we linked neighbourhood data with genetic, health and social outcome data for >7,000 European-descent UK and US young people in the E-Risk and Add Health studies. We tested selection/concentration of genetic risks for obesity, schizophrenia, teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes in high-risk neighbourhoods, including genetic analysis of neighbourhood mobility. Findings argue against genetic selection/concentration as an explanation for neighbourhood gradients in obesity and mental health problems. By contrast, modest genetic selection/concentration was evident for teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes, suggesting that neighbourhood effects for these outcomes should be interpreted with care.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Journal Title

Nature Human Behaviour


Belsky, Daniel W.
Caspi, Avshalom
Arseneault, Louise
Corcoran, David L.
Domingue, Benjamin W.
Harris, Kathleen Mullan
Houts, Renate M.
Mill, Jonathan S.
Moffitt, Terrie E.
Prinz, Joseph
Sugden, Karen
Wertz, Jasmin
Williams, Benjamin
Odgers, Candice L.

Year Published



April 08, 2019





Reference ID