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Genetic Ability, Wealth, and Financial Decision-Making


  • Barth, Daniel

    () (University of Southern California)

  • Papageorge, Nicholas W.

    () (Johns Hopkins University)

  • Thom, Kevin

    () (New York University)


Recent advances in behavioral genetics have enabled the discovery of genetic scores linked to a variety of economic outcomes, including education. We build on this progress to demonstrate that the same genetic variants that predict educational attainment independently predict household wealth in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). This relationship is partly explained by higher earnings, but a substantial portion of this association cannot be explained mechanically by income flows or bequests. This leads us to explore the role of beliefs, financial literacy and portfolio decisions in explaining this genetic gradient in wealth.We show that individuals with lower genetic scores are more prone to reporting "extreme beliefs" (e.g., reporting that there is a 100% chance of a stock market decline in the near future) and they invest their savings accordingly (e.g., avoiding the stock market). Our findings suggest that genetic factors that promote human capital accumulation contribute to wealth disparities not only through education and higher earnings, but also through their impact on the ability to process information and make good financial decisions. The association between genetic ability and wealth is substantially lower among households receiving a defined benefit pension. Policies that transfer greater responsibility to individuals to manage their wealth might therefore exacerbate the consequences of labor market inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Barth, Daniel & Papageorge, Nicholas W. & Thom, Kevin, 2017. "Genetic Ability, Wealth, and Financial Decision-Making," IZA Discussion Papers 10567, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10567

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Jess Benhabib & Alberto Bisin & Shenghao Zhu, 2011. "The Distribution of Wealth and Fiscal Policy in Economies With Finitely Lived Agents," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(1), pages 123-157, January.
    3. Yogo, Motohiro, 2016. "Portfolio choice in retirement: Health risk and the demand for annuities, housing, and risky assets," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 17-34.
    4. Stefan Bach & Andreas Thiemann & Aline Zucco, 2015. "The Top Tail of the Wealth Distribution in Germany, France, Spain, and Greece," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1502, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    5. Currie, Janet & Neidell, Matthew & Schmieder, Johannes F., 2009. "Air pollution and infant health: Lessons from New Jersey," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 688-703, May.
    6. Arrondel, Luc & Calvo-Pardo, Hector, 2014. "Subjective return expectations, information and stock market participation: evidence from France," Discussion Paper Series In Economics And Econometrics 1415, Economics Division, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton.
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    More about this item


    wealth; inequality; portfolio decisions; beliefs; education and genetics;

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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