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Do genes determine your child's educational destiny?

by Andrew Maisel
image of SNP

Our genes define a lot about us. Things like hair and eye color, for example. And they also influence other characteristics, like height and body build. But is it possible your children's future success in school is also written in their genes?

Well, that's how some of the media is spinning the results of a very large genetic study recently published as a letter in Nature.

The report describes the largest ever genetic study in the social sciences, analyzing genetic material from almost 300,000 people of European descent, aged 30 or older. The study authors identified 74 genetic markers (technically known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) as having a correlation with the number of years of lifetime schooling.

A few things to note: First, the overall correlation of these 74 SNPs with years of schooling was small, just 3.2 percent; second, correlation is not the same as causation. Just because these 74 genetic markers appear somewhat more frequently in Europeans with more education does not mean that they caused these people to spend more time in school. And third, no attempt was made to assess the interplay of environmental factors on possible genetic effects.

Bottom-line: don't let your kids use this as an excuse to stay home from school.



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