A genome-wide association study (GWAS) appearing in the journal Science, investigates the potential link between genetic variation and educational attainment. Educational attainment is defined by the number of years of schooling completed by an individual and whether the individual graduated college. Conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC), the team used a pool of over 125,000 individuals from the United States, Australia and 13 western European countries to assess the connection between genetic variation and educational attainment. One of the most significant elements to this study was the size of the sample pool used; it was the largest to date in a published genome-wide association study of the link between genetic variation and educational attainment.
To ensure a uniform and systematic unit of measure, researchers employed the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) scale to compare educational attainment at the international level. Comparing educational attainment with genetic variants known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), researchers noted that the strongest markers had just 0.02 percent effect on attainment and overall, SNPs could explain for just 2 percent of the variation in educational attainment across the sample pool. However, researchers do expect this number to rise as sample pools increase.
When interviewed about the studies finding regarding genetic variation and educational attainment, co-author Daniel Benjamin said, “We hope that our findings will eventually be useful for understanding biological processes underlying learning, memory, reading disabilities and cognitive decline in the elderly.”
David Cesarini, an NYU assistant professor at the Center for Experimental Social Science and the Center for Neuroeconomics, who also co-directs the SSGAC added, “Another contribution of our study is that it will strengthen the methodological foundations of social-science genetics.”
While this study shed light on the potential link between genetics and educational attainment, researchers were quick to note that “the gene for education” has not been found, nor to the study’s findings imply that an individual’s educational attainment is determined at birth. Dalton Conley, one of the study’s co-authors who also serves on the Advisory Board of the SSGAC is quoted saying, “For most outcomes that we study as social scientists, genetic influences are likely to operate through environmental channels that are modifiable. We have now taken a small but important first step toward identifying the specific genetic variants that predict educational attainment. Armed with this knowledge, we can now begin to examine how other factors — including public policy, parental roles, and economic status — dampen or amplify genetic effects and ultimately devise better remedies to bolster educational outcomes.”
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