Your Success Is Shaped by Your Genes

When Duke University School of Medicine a connection between the presence of specific genes and the achievement of better socioeconomic outcomes. Their conclusion: Your success is shaped by your genes. Professor Belsky defended this research.

He started with the results of large data-mining studies involving tens of thousands of human genomes, which identified gene variants linked with particular educational outcomes and the strength of those links. Finally, he concluded that, “our genes can affect our future”. But we also know that human development stems from a complex interaction of the genes we inherit and the environments we encounter. Nature and nurture combine to make us who we are.

In their study they found that kids who had higher polygenic scores started to master language at a younger age; they talked earlier and read earlier and faster than their peers. Perhaps interventions that increase all children’s language skills at younger ages might help more people follow successful trajectories. Going forward, bigger data sets may help them understand why some kids with low polygenic scores nevertheless achieve successful outcomes or why some kids with higher scores still struggle. These “outliers” can provide clues to how we might change children’s environments to improve their outcomes.

Belsky think one important contribution of his work is to document that the genetics originally discovered in studies of educational attainment are not about education specifically. Instead, they relate to a range of personal characteristics—including IQ but also noncognitive skills, like self-control and being able to get along well with others. These traits enabled kids with high polygenic scores to succeed not just in school but well beyond. In fact, differences in education explained only about half the effect on long-term life success we found. Also, even though kids born into better-off families did tend to have slightly higher polygenic scores, higher scores predicted success no matter what kind of conditions a child grew up in.

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