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Interpreting estimates of heritability – A note on the twin decomposition

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  • Stenberg, Anders

Abstract

While most outcomes may in part be genetically mediated, quantifying genetic heritability is a different matter. To explore data on twins and decompose the variation is a classical method to determine whether variation in outcomes, e.g. IQ or schooling, originate from genetic endowments or environmental factors. Despite some criticism, the model is still widely used. The critique is generally related to how estimates of heritability may encompass environmental mediation. This aspect is sometimes left implicit by authors even though its relevance for the interpretation is potentially profound. This short note is an appeal for clarity from authors when interpreting the magnitude of heritability estimates. It is demonstrated how disregarding existing theoretical contributions can easily lead to unnecessary misinterpretations and/or controversies. The key arguments are relevant also for estimates based on data of adopted children or from modern molecular genetics research.

Suggested Citation

  • Stenberg, Anders, 2013. "Interpreting estimates of heritability – A note on the twin decomposition," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 201-205.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:11:y:2013:i:2:p:201-205
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2012.05.002
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:eee:ehbiol:v:26:y:2017:i:c:p:21-29 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Maczulskij, Terhi, 2013. "Employment sector and pay gaps: Genetic and environmental influences," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 89-96.
    3. Pınar Mine Güneş, 2016. "The effects of teenage childbearing on long-term health in the US: a twin-fixed-effects approach," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 14(4), pages 891-920, December.
    4. Cook, C. Justin & Fletcher, Jason M., 2014. "Interactive effects of in utero nutrition and genetic inheritance on cognition: New evidence using sibling comparisons," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 13(C), pages 144-154.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Genes; Environments; Twin studies; Gene–environment interaction; Adoption studies;

    JEL classification:

    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • H50 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - General

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