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Molecular Genetics and Economics


  • Jonathan P. Beauchamp
  • David Cesarini
  • Magnus Johannesson
  • Matthijs J. H. M. van der Loos
  • Philipp D. Koellinger
  • Patrick J. F. Groenen
  • James H. Fowler
  • J. Niels Rosenquist
  • A. Roy Thurik
  • Nicholas A. Christakis


The costs of comprehensively genotyping human subjects have fallen to the point where major funding bodies, even in the social sciences, are beginning to incorporate genetic and biological markers into major social surveys. How, if at all, should economists use and combine molecular genetic and economic data from these surveys? What challenges arise when analyzing genetically informative data? To illustrate, we present results from a "genome-wide association study" of educational attainment. We use a sample of 7,500 individuals from the Framingham Heart Study; our dataset contains over 360,000 genetic markers per person. We get some initially promising results linking genetic markers to educational attainment, but these fail to replicate in a second large sample of 9,500 people from the Rotterdam Study. Unfortunately such failure is typical in molecular genetic studies of this type, so the example is also cautionary. We discuss a number of methodological challenges that face researchers who use molecular genetics to reliably identify genetic associates of economic traits. Our overall assessment is cautiously optimistic: this new data source has potential in economics. But researchers and consumers of the genoeconomic literature should be wary of the pitfalls, most notably the difficulty of doing reliable inference when faced with multiple hypothesis problems on a scale never before encountered in social science.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan P. Beauchamp & David Cesarini & Magnus Johannesson & Matthijs J. H. M. van der Loos & Philipp D. Koellinger & Patrick J. F. Groenen & James H. Fowler & J. Niels Rosenquist & A. Roy Thurik & N, 2011. "Molecular Genetics and Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(4), pages 57-82, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:25:y:2011:i:4:p:57-82 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.4.57

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Weili Ding & Steven Lehrer & J. Niles Rosenquist & Janet Audrain-McGovern, 2006. "The Impact of Poor Health on Education: New Evidence Using Genetic Markers," Working Papers 1045, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
    2. David Cesarini & Christopher T. Dawes & Magnus Johannesson & Paul Lichtenstein & Björn Wallace, 2009. "Genetic Variation in Preferences for Giving and Risk Taking," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 809-842.
    3. John Cawley & Euna Han & Edward C. Norton, 2011. "The validity of genes related to neurotransmitters as instrumental variables," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(8), pages 884-888, August.
    4. Nicos Nicolaou & Scott Shane & Georgina Adi & Massimo Mangino & Juliette Harris, 2011. "A polymorphism associated with entrepreneurship: evidence from dopamine receptor candidate genes," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 151-155, February.
    5. Matthijs Loos & Philipp Koellinger & Patrick Groenen & Cornelius Rietveld & Fernando Rivadeneira & Frank Rooij & André Uitterlinden & Albert Hofman & A. Thurik, 2011. "Candidate gene studies and the quest for the entrepreneurial gene," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 37(3), pages 269-275, October.
    6. Barnea, Amir & Cronqvist, Henrik & Siegel, Stephan, 2010. "Nature or nurture: What determines investor behavior?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 98(3), pages 583-604, December.
    7. Anderson, Michael L., 2008. "Multiple Inference and Gender Differences in the Effects of Early Intervention: A Reevaluation of the Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, and Early Training Projects," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 103(484), pages 1481-1495.
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    Cited by:

    1. De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel & Fowler, James H., 2014. "Credit card borrowing and the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 107(PB), pages 428-439.
    2. Erkan Gören, 2015. "The Relationship Between Novelty-Seeking Traits and Comparative Economic Development," Working Papers V-374-15, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2015.
    3. Climent Quintana-Domeque & Nicola Barban & Elisabetta De Cao & Sonia Oreffice, 2016. "Assortative Mating on Education: A Genetic Assessment," Economics Series Working Papers 791, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    4. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & James H. Fowler & Bruno S. Frey, 2010. "Genes, economics, and happiness," IEW - Working Papers 475, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    5. Guiso, Luigi & Sodini, Paolo, 2013. "Household Finance: An Emerging Field," Handbook of the Economics of Finance, Elsevier.
    6. Nicholas W. Papageorge & Kevin Thom, 2017. "Genes, Education, and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 17-273, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    7. Terhi Maczulskij, 2012. "Employment sector and pay gaps: genetic and environmental influences," ERSA conference papers ersa12p755, European Regional Science Association.
    8. Papageorge, Nicholas W. & Thom, Kevin, 2016. "Genes, Education, and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," IZA Discussion Papers 10200, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Lauren L. Schmitz & Dalton Conley, 2016. "The Effect of Vietnam-Era Conscription and Genetic Potential for Educational Attainment on Schooling Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 22393, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Jean-Francois Maystadt & Giuseppe Migali, 2017. "The transmission of health across 7 generations in China, 1789-1906," Working Papers 147116320, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    11. Cronqvist, Henrik & Siegel, Stephan, 2014. "The genetics of investment biases," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 113(2), pages 215-234.
    12. repec:kap:jrisku:v:54:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11166-017-9261-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Gören, Erkan, 2017. "The persistent effects of novelty-seeking traits on comparative economic development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 112-126.
    14. Vanessa Mertins & Andrea B. Schote & Jobst Meyer, 2013. "Variants of the Monoamine Oxidase A Gene (MAOA) Predict Free-riding Behavior in Women in a Strategic Public Goods Experiment," IAAEU Discussion Papers 201302, Institute of Labour Law and Industrial Relations in the European Union (IAAEU).
    15. López Ulloa, Beatriz Fabiola & Moller, Valerie & Sousa-Poza, Alfonso, 2013. "How Does Subjective Well-Being Evolve with Age? A Literature Review," IZA Discussion Papers 7328, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    16. Maczulskij, Terhi, 2013. "Employment sector and pay gaps: Genetic and environmental influences," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 89-96.
    17. Stenberg, Anders, 2013. "Interpreting estimates of heritability – A note on the twin decomposition," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 201-205.
    18. David Cesarini & Magnus Johannesson & Patrik K. E. Magnusson & Björn Wallace, 2012. "The Behavioral Genetics of Behavioral Anomalies," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 58(1), pages 21-34, January.
    19. Nicola Barban & Elisabetta De Cao & Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2016. "Assortative Mating: A Genetic Assessment," Working Papers 2016-034, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    20. Chew, Soo Hong & Ebstein, Richard P. & Zhong, Songfa, 2013. "Sex-hormone genes and gender difference in ultimatum game: Experimental evidence from China and Israel," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 28-42.
    21. Björklund, Anders & Jäntti, Markus, 2012. "How important is family background for labor-economic outcomes?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 465-474.
    22. Cobb-Clark, Deborah A., 2016. "Biology and Gender in the Labor Market," IZA Discussion Papers 10386, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    23. repec:eee:intfin:v:52:y:2018:i:c:p:64-89 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • C83 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Survey Methods; Sampling Methods


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