Genes->Education->Social Mobility

Tens of thousands of studies correlate family socioeconomic status with later child outcomes like income, wealth and attainment and then claim the correlation is causal. Very few such studies control for genetics, although twin adoption studies suggest that genetics is important. Cheap genomic scanning, however, has made it possible to go beyond twin studies. A new paper, for example, looks at differences in education-associated genes between non-identical twins raised in the same family and they find that children with more education-associated genes tend to have greater educational attainment and higher income later in life. In other words, differences in child outcomes both across families and within the same family are in part driven by genetics.

Surprisingly, however, the authors also find evidence for “genetic nurture” the idea that parental genes drive child environment which drives outcomes. That’s surprising because it’s hard to find strong evidence for big environmental effects in adoption studies but here the authors can rely on more precise data. Specifically, the authors look at maternal education-associated genes that are NOT passed on to the children and yet they find that such genes are also correlated with important child outcomes (fyi, they only have maternal genes). So smart parents benefit children twice. First by passing on smart genes and second–even when they do not pass on smart genes–by passing on a smart environment. Previous studies missed the latter effect perhaps because they focused on rich parents rather than smart parents (the former being easier to measure). The authors suggest that by looking at how smart parents help kids without smart genes we may be able to figure out smart environments and generalize them to everyone. That strikes me as optimistic.

Here is the paper abstract:

A summary genetic measure, called a “polygenic score,” derived from a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of education can modestly predict a person’s educational and economic success. This prediction could signal a biological mechanism: Education-linked genetics could encode characteristics that help people get ahead in life. Alternatively, prediction could reflect social history: People from well-off families might stay well-off for social reasons, and these families might also look alike genetically. A key test to distinguish biological mechanism from social history is if people with higher education polygenic scores tend to climb the social ladder beyond their parents’ position. Upward mobility would indicate education-linked genetics encodes characteristics that foster success. We tested if education-linked polygenic scores predicted social mobility in >20,000 individuals in five longitudinal studies in the United States, Britain, and New Zealand. Participants with higher polygenic scores achieved more education and career success and accumulated more wealth. However, they also tended to come from better-off families. In the key test, participants with higher polygenic scores tended to be upwardly mobile compared with their parents. Moreover, in sibling-difference analysis, the sibling with the higher polygenic score was more upwardly mobile. Thus, education GWAS discoveries are not mere correlates of privilege; they influence social mobility within a life. Additional analyses revealed that a mother’s polygenic score predicted her child’s attainment over and above the child’s own polygenic score, suggesting parents’ genetics can also affect their children’s attainment through environmental pathways. Education GWAS discoveries affect socioeconomic attainment through influence on individuals’ family-of-origin environments and their social mobility.

You can find the appendix with the key results here. I find the lab style difficult to follow. The authors run regressions, for example, but you won’t find a regression equation followed by a table with all the results. Instead the regression is described in the appendix and then some coefficients, but by no means all, are presented later in the appendix.


I suspect that the results found in this study will become more pronounced, as education, especially at elite schools, becomes increasingly important to opportunities and potential success. Helicopter parents aren't just over-protective parents on the playground: they promote their children by enrolling them in the best schools and preparing them for eventual admission to elite colleges. Sure, it helps if the parents are wealthy, but smart parents with modest incomes (because, for example, they chose a career path with relatively low compensation) can provide their children with the same opportunities and potential success with a little helicopter parenting. In my day, attendance at elite schools was not nearly as important to opportunity and potential success, so even wealthy or smart parents were not nearly as obsessive about preparing their children for success. I am optimistic too, as elite schools wants to admit the smartest applicants who will have the greatest likelihood of success, both in school and later so that they will provide the school with a return on the school's investment. They do it by providing scholarships and tuition waivers to the smartest students whose families don't have the means to pay full tuition.

The studies that I have seen show very little effect from attending elite schools. One study showed that those who applied to Harvard but did not go to Harvard did as well as those who went to Harvard.

Those who applied to Harvard and don't go to Harvard go to Yale or the Univ of Chicago or MIT.

People who went to City College in the 1920-1940s did really well, pretty much the same as Harvard. But I guess the quality of the school declined a lot since then. Hahaha.

Actually, going to a good school gives a person good contacts, which is valuable. A $300,000 investment in a social club, which will probably pay off handsomely.

True or False?

And U of Chic is now an elite school?

No I think they went to state schools.

Among the finalists, and the favorite among many, for the appointment to the Supreme Court was a graduate of Michigan Law School. More than one WH source said that Trump, our populist president, didn't pick him because he did not attend an Ivy League law school.

Maybe, but Kethledge was also not seen as taking a hard enough line on immigration. Trump's base did not approve.

Too many Mexicans and Asians in America. I'm glad Trump is putting a stop to all this nonsense. We need more White babies and abort the Black ones.

"In my day, attendance at elite schools was not nearly as important to opportunity and potential success"

Can you show ANY importance?

I'm a pretty smart dude surrounded by others who are in my same general level of intelligence but are far more successful than I am, and as I get to know them it's usually because they had better advice when they were young and stupid than I did when I was likewise young and stupid. It doesn't surprise me at all to know parenting matters.

As far as reproducing the results for the masses, it strikes me that successful parenting (however you want to define success) is extremely tailored to the individual child. Such things are pretty difficult to translate, but it is quite possible that self-educating computers could help with this in the future. If modern articles are to be believed, intelligence can be measured with a brain scan, and if more aptitudes can likewise be measured then these neural networks can far better map a likely successful path for individual children regardless of aptitude.

It's true that successful people tended to get better advice when they were young, but another part is that they also listened to the advice.

FWIW, I followed the advice I got, it just turned out to be garbage since I had no wise friends among the crowd I hung out with. As a result, I am quite sensitive that my own children have friends who, if not wise, at least have parents who are.

Are you sure that you are as smart as they are? Also don’t be fooled by availability bias, you may be in the position of comparing yourself to an especially elite group by chance, the majority of people I. Your intelligence bracket could be doing worse than you.

Of course in general there is a huge amount of writing that purports to be good advice, the problem, like in investment advice, is knowing which advice to follow. But it seemed to me at 18 that the best thing to do was study a STEM type subject at the best University I could find and get as good a degree as I could then work hard at my job to make myself valuable and worth promoting. This to me seems quite good advice still for anyone at that age.

What is "young and stupid"? In college?

People want to forget the simple logic of genes and the environment. In very poor countries such as Zimbabwe, it is likely that much of the difference between people is heavily distorted by low health and income at the bottom. Environment matters a lot. As countries get rich, the percentage that have adequate access to basic nutrition and healthcare increases. Thus, almost by definition the bigger factor will be genes, plus environment factors that magnify the benefits of certain genes. The latter might code as environment but won't be helpful for those with the wrong initial aptitudes or attributes.

This happens with sports in poor countries. The guys playing in professional leagues are the ones who had decent nutrition and some support from the family. In richer countries, undernutrition, violence or sickness are not a worry anymore, thus only the guys with the best genes stand out.

Even those with the best genes need serious coaching from the very beginning and that's expensive. The very best golfers, tennis, hockey, baseball, football and basketball players have received extensive instruction since childhood.

Golf and tennis, sure those others not so much.

Hockey and baseball certainly require extensive early instruction. You can't learn to skate to a high standard if you start at 14, nor can you learn to hit good pitching then. I don't know basketball well enough to comment.

Football is well known for adapting athletes from other sports. They don't get to be quarterback, but there are positions where athleticism and a brain can substitute for long experience.

Football, baseball, and basketball are full of Urkel Americans. We need a gangster like Trump and real black Americans supporting him to run the show. We'll be unstoppable. But I'll still be a cuck.

"Hockey and baseball certainly require extensive early instruction. You can't learn to skate to a high standard if you start at 14, nor can you learn to hit good pitching then. I don't know basketball well enough to comment."

Those claims are definitely false. Skating is not even a skill that distinguishes at the pro level. No one even faces good pitching at 14.


Hockey is like gymnastics. If you don't start skating as a toddler, you'll never have fluency. It's a huge distinguishing factor at the pro level.

And in baseball, 14 is your first year in high school. If you aren't facing good pitching on a varsity team, your odds of D1 are slim, much less the pros. Pitchers I'll grant can come out of nowhere, but not hitters.

This is entirely known about - you can see the differences in African and Indian IQ scores between those raised in first world and third world environments.

It closes a significant minority, but only a minority, of the gap. File under "True but insufficient".

That's kind of the point of the article. Let's say the parents have lower IQ because they were born in India and didn't get enough iron and were exposed to lead or something. Then they come to the US and have kids (most Indian immigrants to the US are high-IQ but let's leave that aside). The kids don't get exposed to lead, they get good pre-natal and post-natal nutrition, so they don't get those environmental problems. But ... the parents don't know how to educate their kids. they don't teach them to read before kindergarten, they don't provide them with educational toys. Maybe they are strict disciplinarians and they beat their kids. Maybe they screw up their potty training so they wind up with wierd social insecurities. That all contributes to success later in life. This sort of thing can take a couple of generations to filter out. Even some of the environmental hazards might not filter out right away. Low IQ parents might not be aware of lead hazards, they might not know to feed their babies iron-fortified cereal. So their babies might still not be getting optimal nutrition.

"the parents don't know how to educate their kids. they don't teach them to read before kindergarten, they don't provide them with educational toys ...": where's the evidence that any of this stuff much matters?

"where's the evidence that any of this stuff much matters?"

I tend to believe that stuff matters, but the studies on the subject indicate I'm wrong.

"Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey—authors of the landmark Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Effectiveness Study—found that academic gains achieved by students in Tennessee pre-K classrooms began to fade out by first grade and vanished by third grade."

There is actually tons of research on this subject.

Sure, there are some studies that say it doesn't matter. People can cherry pick the data that says early childhood has no impact if they want. But there is plenty of research saying it does matter.

I'd be shocked if learning to read before kindergarten had no effect, especially in poor school districts. Maybe it averages out in the better districts, but in the really bad ones if the parents actively try to teach their own children it could make up for a lot. Heck, the difference could even be "smarter parents move to better school districts".

Learning to read before Kindergarten is strongly correlated with the kid's intelligence, as well as with his parents trying to teach him to read.

Kids in FInland don't even start to learn how to read until age 7. If you teach kids NO math for their entire lives and then start teaching them at age 12, they catch up to other kids in several weeks. These things don't matter at all.

Correct. Interesting example: one of the smartest men I know is from Ghana, grandfather of a chieftain 'king', didn't learn how to read until he was twelve, and still made it to PhD oxford.

I have a lot of followers in Africa of all places, and I'm always surprised that the very brightest fellow in any group may very well have learned to read in his teens. Phd candidate I advise in Cameroon is amazing. But there is a negative to the environmental effect, and as far as I can tell, it's intellectual honesty due to the 'expiring paradigms' of the 19th-20th. And I'm increasingly conscious of young minds around the world that do not carry the 'western progressive defect', and see man as he demonstrates he is, not as westerners wish he was.

"Although not a proponent of ethnic cleansing, Mr. Tabarrok and his ideas may lead as a gateway to the alt-right." -SPLC

I take it that SPLC = Society for the Propagation of Libellous Crap?

Really? Excellent. Reality is now a gateway drug to alt-right.

I'm still laughing after SPLC had to settle expensively with Maajid Nawaz. They're a bunch of nasty libellous authoritarians who symbolise just how corrupted and evil the "anti-racism" industry has become.

A link would clearly spoil the joke for the gullible.

Particularly as very few people would refer to a PhD holding professor at a university as 'Mr.'

And yet I routinely address his crony as "Mr Cowen". Habits differ.

I'm pretty sure it's not a real quote. Alex Tabarrock is not nearly well enough known to have drawn the attention of the SPLC.

"So Much For Subtlety and his wife may lead as a gateway to the fine art of cuckoldry" - Southern Cuck Center

The authors suggest that by looking at how smart parents help kids without smart genes we may be able to figure out smart environments and generalize them to everyone. That strikes me as optimistic.

Agreed. It'll probably include some not easily replicable stuff like 'have a lot of smart friends and peers' or 'have a lot of highly successful adults in your parent's social circle.'

Take, for example, European royalty and aristocracy, which we know suffered genetic decline due to inbreeding, retaining power and wealthy until globalization of trade and war killed off enough of the men and their wealth and power, new genes were introduced from the newly wealthy Americans.

I suppose one might argue that British royalty and aristocracy would have vanished by now due to their inferior genes if not for American liberals propping them up by fawning over and worshiping the rich, and propping them up. If Trump had been running things after WWII he would have forced all the British assets be sold to the highest bidders to be turned into Trump resorts and golf courses.

Easy to overstate the effect; Inbreeding really only occurred at the highest levels. There was enough mixing throughout the majority of the aristocracy to keep things viable.

See the Hapsburgs. Disasters at the most-inbred top of the tree, but lower down in the extended family there were thousands doing just fine.

If you want to see inbreeding and genetic decline now, let's look at countries with the highest rate of cousin marriage...

The trouble with genetic correlations is that, at our current technological level, we have no idea why, and we have very different ideas of the acceptability of some success differences. Maybe it's things that make someone better at studying, they could be mental health, or they could be things that make someone have better looks, as defined by the society they live on.

Until we understand them well, this genetic indicators are mostly acting like a great way to confirm whatever biases we have.

Or it could be related to being a complete moron. We just can't know!

Yeah, everything is just one big mystery. Which is why I'm going to start training Morris V so he can compete in the 100-metre dash in the Olympics. If we start now, I think we can do it!!

“Education-associated genes”? I’m a bit skeptical that such are really verified.

It's just a politically correct term for the 1000+ IQ correlated genes that have been discovered as yet. Most public estimations of IQ are done by degrees (a very bad proxy by the way), and by framing education related genes rather than IQ they circumvent criticism by the anti-IQ-measurement groups.

I agree. Also, being smart has really only been a thing for the last century. Buffett has oftened said how his skills would have been meaningless if he'd been born on a farm in the 19th century. We have no idea what genes will be useful in 200 or 500 years. Learning about genes is interesting, but we should absolutely not try to put this knowledge to work because we definitely don't know enough.

When we look at spectacularly successful people like an Edison, Ford, Disney, Gates or Jobs, intelligence seems to actually count for little.
Its not like each of these guys was the smartest in his organization or the most skilled at the core competency.

Their chief skill was in personal relationships, selling their ideas to other people, investors and partners who provided the fuel and organizational skills to build the organization and make it prosper.

None of those guys were dummies.

Intelligence isn't the only thing that matters, but it's one of the things that matters--and it's one we can actually measure pretty well, so we've got some kind of data on it.

With the exception of Jobs, the others were highly skilled at the core competency. Gates was programming in high school and earned more than enough to by a speed boat before graduating. In high school, Disney was a cartoonist for the school newspaper paper while also taking night courses at the Chicago academy of Fine arts and worked as a commercial artist for many years and produced animation before forming the Disney Corporation. Ford had a reputation as a watch repairer in high school and was chief engineer at Edison Illuminating Company before forming the auto company. Edison made a number of inventions before forming the Menlo Park research lab.

Without a doubt they were bright.
So is the guy waiting tables, or working as a patent clerk.

Its not that intelligence isn't important, it just isn't the primary measurement of abilities that laypeople like to imagine.
In conversations like this, it starts to take on the characteristic of some magic sauce that is determinative of not just individuals, but entire groups of people, even nations.
Its like saying muscle density or body fat is the most determinative factor in Superbowl champions; there is some correlation, but focusing on that one ignores a whole host of other factors.

I didn't say anything about intelligence. I said they had skills applicable to the business they were in. You're the one who said their chief skill was in personal relationships not in core skill of the business. If they weren't the most skilled in the core competency in the early days, it was because they attracted the most skilled partly because they were highly skilled themselves and not by shear charisma.

Of course personal skills and business skills were also important. Tesla might have been more intelligent then Edison, but Edison was a more successful businessman.

But to use your Superbowl analogy, the champions are not necessarily they ones with the highest muscle density in the NFL, but 99% of the players in the NFL probably are in the top 10% of muscle density of the general population. You need other skills, but high muscle density is a requirement. Similarly most highly successful people probably have above average intelligence combined with other skills.

Again, continuing the analogy-
The winning team is just that- a team.
Although the individual players have skill, what separates winners from losers is the ability to work together as a team rather than a collection of individual talents.

The industry leaders I mentioned were capable in their core competency, but not necessarily the best animator, coder, engineer or whatever.
What separated them from the rest was their social skill and ability to interact with others.

"family socioeconomic status with later child outcomes like ...": OK. But what about earlier child outcomes e.g. for the first born?

More dangerous WrongThink! The left's Dark Reckoning with genetics and human biodiversity approaches apace. I love it.

Trump is right to start a trade war with China. Send those slanty eyed ching chongs back to Chinatown, I say.

As Secretary of State, I would regularly strap on my strap-on tools and hammer-pud some DC hosebags. I stand ready to do the same for Mr Trump.

'Education associated genes

They have no clue, they likely found a gene that makes it easier to sit in a classroom for four hours. Seriously, there is no theory which lets them find intelligence genes, the process way to obscure.

It's kind of naïve to think a characteristic so patently associated with homo sapiens and so correlated with the ability to acquire resources and thrive in different environments has no basis in evolutionary genetics.

Intelligence is not a single factor, like abstract problem solving.
The ability to thrive in different environments requires multiple skills on many levels.
Abstract problem solving is one, but so is muscle memory and physical skill, so is socialization and the ability to coordinate efforts within a group.

and what this study appears to show is the importance of the development of the group on the development of the individual. An individual's ability to thrive depends in large part to the degree to which the environment is receptive or hostile to the underlying skills.

So different population groups may have evolved differently in order to thrive in different environments. Wow just wow, bigot.

I'm not sure how you got there, unless you started there to begin with.

There is no human environment and never has been where low intelligence is privileged and (moderately) high intelligence is not-- though to be sure abnormally high intelligence may be a drawback when it comes to mating.
The latest evidence is that modern humans did not evolve in a single location, but evolved simultaneously (with some gene sharing among local groups) across the continent of Africa, so modern human intelligence would have been selected for in a great many different environments, ranging from arid to rain forest to savanna to Mediterranean to marine coast and estuarial.

So did was 'rain forest intelligence' selected for in rain forest areas and desert intelligence in dry areas? Or a generic 'jack of all trades' intelligence that could read an environment and quickly size up what its 'rules' are and how to exploit them?

I think the real common factor here is human society. You don't need to have a lot of intelligence to adapt to different environments. All environments have species that have almost no intelligence and use instincts only.

Human social connections, though, make a massive leverage in survival. I think that's where you get the most bang for the metabolic buck in developing intelligence and while humans have colonized a diverse array of environments in terms of climate, food, etc. everywhere they have gone they went as social animals. So yes it actually is not unreasonable to suspect that as far as intelligence is genetic it was equally selected cross all of humanity.

Intelligence is a single factor, g. It's not the only attribute that exists, you have named some others. But they are not intelligence. They are dependent on and correlated with intelligence, though.

"what this study appears to show is the importance of the development of the group on the development of the individual"

Where did you get that exactly?

The study noted the importance of the environment provided by the parents in nurturing the child's intelligence.
The environment provided by parents can't be divorced from the larger societal environment provided to them.

Well, you can narrow intelligence by fiat definition to be a single trait, but as commonly understood (and certainly as processed by evolution which is less enamored of ideological monisms) intelligence is a bundle of traits of which academic intelligence is only one. And even at the academic level there's a split between verbal and mathematical/logical intelligence hence most aptitude tests have separate sections and scores for each.

I think what he's saying is that it may be the ability to sit in a classroom and learn in a classroom setting, more so than 'intelligence', which may drive the results.

Somewhat differently, consider that the class clown may (sometimes) be a genius of all sorts, but spend so much time banned from class or otherwise not in study, that academic performance and future income would likely be low.

This can be consistent with genetic explanations which disregard environment, etc. Specifically, there may be some genetic predisposition related to the ability to perform well in a classroom, that will tend to result in higher measures of 'intelligence' without actually constituting 'intelligence'.

This could be the case, whether considering some standardized test, or alternative conceptions such as "emotional intelligence". The example of the class clown is again useful for the fact that they may be inherently 'intelligent' in some IQ-like sense, but be lacking in sensitivity or concern for others, both of which tend to promote many useful forms of teamwork and/or leadership skills.

This is a good comment. If different people have different learning styles, some people may do better in a standard American classroom, despite not being actually more intelligent. This is one argument behind Montessori teaching methods. Conventional classrooms teach a certain kind of personality best, and that default personality isn't necessarily better. (Some things like attention span could be good, but other things like obedience to authority might not be).

The example of the class clown is again useful for the fact that they may be inherently 'intelligent' in some IQ-like sense, but be lacking in sensitivity or concern for others, both of which tend to promote many useful forms of teamwork and/or leadership skills.

You're using a negative example, but it doesn't have to be. People who are very creative or intelligent may behave in ways that teachers incorrectly interpret as disruptive, because they cut against the teaching style of that teacher, not because they are actually bad. Example: the class clown might be defusing tension in a classroom run by a struct authoritarian or disrupted by bullies.
As I said, the conventional classroom style is not written in stone as the correct way to teach children.

That seems plausible. If it is true for a largish number of smart kids, then there are huge gains to be had by finding a better educational environment for those kids and putting them there.

The obvious places you see this are in unconventional schools and in homeschooling. Both of those are probably great fits for some subset of kids, and terrible fits for others; hopefully, the parents are paying attention and notice when things are/aren't working out for their kids.

"Surprisingly, however, the authors also find evidence for “genetic nurture” the idea that parental genes drive child environment which drives outcomes. That’s surprising because it’s hard to find strong evidence for big environmental effects in adoption studies but here the authors can rely on more precise data."

That's not surprising nor did previous studies miss it. "Genetic nurture" is subsumed under the shared environmental component in studies using the classical twin design (MZ and DZ twins reared together) and such studies consistently show the shared environment to be important for educational attainment.

"The authors suggest that by looking at how smart parents help kids without smart genes we may be able to figure out smart environments and generalize them to everyone. That strikes me as optimistic."

The US has developed a strange relationship with problems and solutions. We have a new antipathy towards "solutionists" which makes the whole thing more difficult.

Ultimately our optimism and pessimism on problems on solutions hinges on that .. should we try? Or would that be wrong?

Interesting post in that there is no mention of "3 identical strangers", the current documentary moving.

So, the reasons the three clones ended up with such different outcomes is the genes selected to be parents for each by Dr Peter Neubauer?

The difficulty with the subject is that there seems always to be a lurking desire to find the mysterious woo, the secret sauce that creates superior humans.
And of course it is accompanied by the desire to either justify the status quo or bend it in a favorable way.

The other problem is that outcomes are the result of a million variables; trying to find the formula for a successful life is like trying to find the formula for the next hot pop music performer.

In my understanding, one criticism most of these GWAS results is that they pick up not only functional variants, but also markers of lineage.

For example, if Darwin's extended family all have some mutation in a completely irrelevant bit of DNA, this may be detected as correlating with education. Most of its carriers will have a bunch of other genes with positive effects, but the presence or absence of this gene will tell you nothing at all about a particular great-grandkid (unless it happens to be located near something useful on the chromosome).

This makes me skeptical of the environmental effect they claim about mothers. Mothers with this imaginary Darwin-family-marker gene will tend to have smart kids, but knowing which siblings do or don't inherit it tells you nothing. Won't this look exactly like the environmental effect they talk about?

"a mother’s polygenic score predicted her child’s attainment over and above the child’s own polygenic score, suggesting parents’ genetics can also affect their children’s attainment through environmental pathways."

Just seeing if this work....

If the study lacked paternal genetic info, I can't find the non inherited maternal gene finding terribly surprising. An intelligent woman attracts an intelligent partner, benefiting her offspring genetically without requiring the offspring to have inherited any particular maternal gene.

Once upon a time a factory built 1000 identical laptops. They were preloaded with the same version of Windows. A corporate IT department made sure the end users did not get admin. permissions and set up the laptops with identical settings. Two years later your coworker doesn't get something so you borrow his laptop to show him....and it feels like you're driving a totally different car.

This, IMO, is why The Bell Curve was not a good foundational document for public policy, as many appear to want it to be. The analogy is made between code and genetics with the idea that code is immutable and so are genetics but the problem is this is only true for very simple examples of code. In reality both complex code and genes live in a very fuzzy non-line where there's no clear point that environment ends and genetics begins.

What if there isn't an "intelligence gene" but instead a gene that triggers the development or cultivation of intelligence when a person feels safe and comfortable for an extended period of time?

Keep in mind high IQ isn't always a good thing. In some environments, esp. ones you're unfamiliar with, it is often better to not spend time 'thinking out of the box' and just follow the rules and keep your head down.

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