A study that was published in Nature regarding gene variants and success in school has been viewed as divisive. Some feel it shows that people who have certain gene variants do better in school (and stay in school longer) that those who do not have the variants. Others see problems with that conclusion that the researchers may have overlooked.
The study was titled “Genome-wide association study identifies 74 loci associated with educational attainment”. It is the largest-ever genetics study in the social sciences. The study found dozens of DNA markers that are linked to the number of years of formal education an individual completes.
The genetic data that was analyzed came from about 300,000 people. The study’s authors identified 9 million genetic variants that, as a group, have some influence on school success. (This includes the 74 genetic markers that show strong individual influence.) When considered as an overall polygenic score, the variants explain 3.2% of the difference in educational attainment between individuals.
Those who view this study positively hope that the research will aid studies of biology, medicine, and social policy. Some feel these types of studies could pave the way to predictive analysis for traits such as how well children perform on standardized tests.
Those who view this study negatively feel that it obscures factors that have a much larger impact on individual educational attainment, such as health, parenting, and the quality of schooling that a person had access to. It has been pointed out that the study only examined the genes of people who have European ancestry. It is unclear whether the results would apply to people who have ancestry in other parts of the world (like Africa or Asia).
One thing to consider is that the researchers estimate that a person who carries two copies of the genetic variant that has the strongest known effect on success in school would only complete nine more weeks of schooling over a lifetime than would a person who did not carry those variants. That might equate to one semester of college in some states – and less than one semester in others.
In addition, there has been a lot of controversy over the use of standardized testing in schools. Many teachers do not feel that these types of tests provide a good example of an individual student’s ability to do well in school. Many parents choose to opt their child out of having to take those kinds of tests.
In short, you might come from a family that includes many college graduates. This may, or may not, indicate that the gene variants the researchers discovered run in your family. More studies need to be done about the genetics related to school success before any conclusions can be made.
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