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

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  • Owen Thompson

Abstract

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
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    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.
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    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.

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