IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Economic Background and Educational Attainment: The Role of Gene-Environment Interactions


  • Owen Thompson


On average, children from less economically privileged households have lower levels of educational attainment than their higher-income peers, and this association has important implications for intergenerational mobility and equality of opportunity. This paper shows that the income-education association varies greatly across groups of children with different versions of a specific gene, monoamine-oxidase A (MAOA), which impacts neurotransmitter activity. For children with one MAOA variant, increases in household income have the expected positive association with education. For children with another variant, who comprise over half of the population, this relationship is much weaker. These results hold when the interactive effects are identified using genetic variation between full biological siblings, which genetic principles assert is as good as randomly assigned.

Suggested Citation

  • Owen Thompson, 2014. "Economic Background and Educational Attainment: The Role of Gene-Environment Interactions," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 49(2), pages 263-294.
  • Handle: RePEc:uwp:jhriss:v:49:y:2014:ii:1:p:263-294

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: A subscripton is required to access pdf files. Pay per article is available.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gordon B. Dahl & Lance Lochner, 2012. "The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 1927-1956, August.
    2. Erik Plug & Wim Vijverberg, 2003. "Schooling, Family Background, and Adoption: Is It Nature or Is It Nurture?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(3), pages 611-641, June.
    3. Ding, Weili & Lehrer, Steven F. & Rosenquist, J.Niels & Audrain-McGovern, Janet, 2009. "The impact of poor health on academic performance: New evidence using genetic markers," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 578-597, May.
    4. Lundborg, Petter & Stenberg, Anders, 2010. "Nature, nurture and socioeconomic policy--What can we learn from molecular genetics?," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 320-330, December.
    5. Fletcher Jason M. & Lehrer Steven F, 2009. "The Effects of Adolescent Health on Educational Outcomes: Causal Evidence Using Genetic Lotteries between Siblings," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 1-33, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Pehkonen, Jaakko & Viinikainen, Jutta & Böckerman, Petri & Lehtimäki, Terho & Pitkänen, Niina & Raitakari, Olli, 2017. "Genetic endowments, parental resources and adult health: Evidence from the Young Finns Study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 188(C), pages 191-200.
    3. Papageorge, Nicholas W. & Thom, Kevin, 2016. "Genes, Education, and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," IZA Discussion Papers 10200, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Barth, Daniel & Papageorge, Nicholas W. & Thom, Kevin, 2017. "Genetic Ability, Wealth, and Financial Decision-Making," IZA Discussion Papers 10567, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Steven F. Lehrer & Weili Ding, 2017. "Are genetic markers of interest for economic research?," IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 6(1), pages 1-23, December.
    6. Goel, Deepti & Barooah, Bidisha, 2018. "Drivers of Student Performance: Evidence from Higher Secondary Public Schools in Delhi," GLO Discussion Paper Series 231, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    7. Rauscher, Emily, 2017. "Plastic and Immobile," OSF Preprints cjweu, Center for Open Science.
    8. Justin Cook, C. & Fletcher, Jason M., 2015. "Understanding heterogeneity in the effects of birth weight on adult cognition and wages," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 107-116.
    9. Nicholas W. Papageorge & Kevin Thom, 2018. "Genes, Education, and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Working Papers 2018-076, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    10. Jason M. Fletcher, 2019. "Environmental bottlenecks in children’s genetic potential for adult socio-economic attainments: Evidence from a health shock," Population Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 73(1), pages 139-148, January.
    11. Amin, Vikesh & Dunn, Paul & Spector, Tim, 2018. "Does education attenuate the genetic risk of obesity? Evidence from U.K. Twins," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 200-208.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:uwp:jhriss:v:49:y:2014:ii:1:p:263-294. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.