Economic Background and Educational Attainment: The Role of Gene-Environment Interactions
27 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2012
Date Written: January 15, 2012
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. Using a large national data set that recently added information on genetic markers, this paper shows that the income-achievement relationship varies greatly across groups of children with different versions of a single gene, monoamine oxidase A (MAOA). For children with one variant of MAOA, increases in household income have the expected large positive association with college enrollment, college graduation, and total years of schooling completed. For children with another variant of MAOA, who comprise over half of the population, there is virtually no relationship between economic background and educational attainment. These results hold when the interactive effects are identified using MAOA variation between full biological siblings, which genetic principles assure is as good as randomly assigned. Implications for policy design and future research are discussed.
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