Genetics of educational attainment and the persistence of privilege at the turn of the 21st century


Nielsen, Francois & Roos, Micah (2012). Genetics of educational attainment and the persistence of privilege at the turn of the 21st century. 2012 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


We estimate quantitative genetic (ACE) models of educational attainment using structural equations methodology with data on 1,576 pairs of young adult siblings (n pairs = 200 MZ twins, 324 DZ twins, 639 full siblings, 213 half siblings, 68 cousins, and 132 nonrelated siblings) to distinguish the roles of genetic and environmental influences on educational attainment (highest degree earned). While many cognitive and educational outcomes show increasing effects of genes (heritability) and declining effects of the shared environment by late adolescence, we find that the role of genes in educational attainment is relatively weaker (23 percent of the variance in attainment) and the role of the shared family environment stronger (41 percent of the variance for twins and 30 percent of the variance for non-twin siblings) than is typically found for cognitive outcomes (such as IQ) at the same young adult stage in the life course. The pattern of persistent shared environmentality, especially for twins, is not accounted for by the strong degree of assortative mating in the data (parental correlation r = .629) nor by direct effects of educational attainment of the siblings on each other. This empirical pattern may reflect a greater impact of available family financial resources on educational attainment than on more purely cognitive outcomes, and the persistence of substantial inequality of opportunity for educational attainment in American society at the turn of the twenty first century.


Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2012 Add Health Users Conference


Nielsen, Francois
Roos, Micah

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID