Economic background and educational attainment: The role of gene-environment interactions


Thompson, Owen (2012). Economic background and educational attainment: The role of gene-environment interactions. 2012 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


On average, children from less economically privileged households have lower levels of educational attainment than their higher income peers, and this association has important implications for intergenerational mobility and equality of opportunity. Using genetic marker data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this paper shows that the income-achievement relationship varies greatly across groups of children with different versions of a single gene, monoamineoxidase A (MAOA). For children with one variant of MAOA, increases in household income have the expected large positive association with college enrollment, college graduation, and total years of schooling completed. For children with another variant of MAOA, who comprise over half of the population, there is virtually no relationship between economic background and educational attainment. These results hold when the genetic component of the interactive effects are identified using MAOA variation between full biological siblings, which biological principles assure is as good as randomly assigned. The mechanisms underlying this interaction as well as implications for policy and future research are discussed.


Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2012 Add Health Users Conference


Thompson, Owen

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID