The role of parental genotype in predicting offspring years of education: evidence for genetic nurture

Emily A. Willoughby, Matt McGue, William G. Iacono, Aldo Rustichini, James J. Lee

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Abstract

Similarities between parent and offspring are widespread in psychology; however, shared genetic variants often confound causal inference for offspring outcomes. A polygenic score (PGS) derived from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can be used to test for the presence of parental influence that controls for genetic variants shared across generations. We use a PGS for educational attainment (EA3; N ≈ 750 thousand) to predict offspring years of education in a sample of 2517 twins and both parents. We find that within families, the dizygotic twin with the higher PGS is more likely to attain higher education (unstandardized β = 0.32; p < 0.001). Additionally, however, we find an effect of parental genotype on offspring outcome that is independent of the offspring’s own genotype; this raises the variance explained in offspring years of education from 9.3 to 11.1% (∆R2 = 0.018, p < 0.001). Controlling for parental IQ or socioeconomic status substantially attenuated or eliminated this effect of parental genotype. These findings suggest a role of environmental factors affected by heritable characteristics of the parents in fostering offspring years of education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMolecular psychiatry
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

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Genotype
Education
Parents
Dizygotic Twins
Foster Home Care
Genome-Wide Association Study
Social Class
Psychology

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  • Journal Article

Cite this

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title = "The role of parental genotype in predicting offspring years of education: evidence for genetic nurture",
abstract = "Similarities between parent and offspring are widespread in psychology; however, shared genetic variants often confound causal inference for offspring outcomes. A polygenic score (PGS) derived from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can be used to test for the presence of parental influence that controls for genetic variants shared across generations. We use a PGS for educational attainment (EA3; N ≈ 750 thousand) to predict offspring years of education in a sample of 2517 twins and both parents. We find that within families, the dizygotic twin with the higher PGS is more likely to attain higher education (unstandardized β = 0.32; p < 0.001). Additionally, however, we find an effect of parental genotype on offspring outcome that is independent of the offspring’s own genotype; this raises the variance explained in offspring years of education from 9.3 to 11.1{\%} (∆R2 = 0.018, p < 0.001). Controlling for parental IQ or socioeconomic status substantially attenuated or eliminated this effect of parental genotype. These findings suggest a role of environmental factors affected by heritable characteristics of the parents in fostering offspring years of education.",
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AU - Rustichini, Aldo

AU - Lee, James J.

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N2 - Similarities between parent and offspring are widespread in psychology; however, shared genetic variants often confound causal inference for offspring outcomes. A polygenic score (PGS) derived from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can be used to test for the presence of parental influence that controls for genetic variants shared across generations. We use a PGS for educational attainment (EA3; N ≈ 750 thousand) to predict offspring years of education in a sample of 2517 twins and both parents. We find that within families, the dizygotic twin with the higher PGS is more likely to attain higher education (unstandardized β = 0.32; p < 0.001). Additionally, however, we find an effect of parental genotype on offspring outcome that is independent of the offspring’s own genotype; this raises the variance explained in offspring years of education from 9.3 to 11.1% (∆R2 = 0.018, p < 0.001). Controlling for parental IQ or socioeconomic status substantially attenuated or eliminated this effect of parental genotype. These findings suggest a role of environmental factors affected by heritable characteristics of the parents in fostering offspring years of education.

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