Genes show parental environment influences educational level

Scientists from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) have demonstrated an effect of parental environment on educational level by studying the genes of parents and their children.

02/10/2020 | 11:42 AM

It’s well known that inherited genes predict educational level of children, but this new study shows that genes that parents do not pass on to their children  also have an effect. These genes influence the environment that parents create based on their own educational level (parental environment). Because their children does not have these genes, the effect of the non-inherited genes can only go through the parental environment. The results are published today in the scientific journal Behavior Genetics.

A frequently asked question is why children of highly educated parents often have a high level of education. Parents pass on their genes to their children and create the environment in which they grow up. Therefore it’s difficult to demonstrate whether the parental environment has a direct influence. By looking at genes  the VU-researchers have demonstrated an effect of the parental environment. Biological psychologist Eveline de Zeeuw: "Now that we know that parental environment has a direct effect on educational level, we can in future research search for specific factors that can reduce unequal opportunities in education".

Genes and environment
Parents pass on half of their genes to their children. By mapping the genes of children and both their parents, we know which genes the child inherited and which they did not. The genes that parents do not pass on, still have an influence on the parental environment. The influence of parents' genes on the parental environment is called genetic nurturing. VU-researcher Elsje van Bergen: “The effect of the non-inherited genes on educational level is smaller than the effect of inherited genes. But the fact that we can now demonstrate the interplay of nature and nurture with this new method is a breakthrough ”.

NL Twin Register
VU professor Dorret Boomsma and founder of the Netherlands Twin Register: "We are currently one of the few places in the world where this research is possible, because we have measured genes in children and both their parents." At the Netherlands Twin Register, around 2,000 adults filled out their highest degree on a questionnaire. In addition, hundreds of thousands of genetic variants were measured in this group of adults and both their parents.