Rich children of average intelligence are more likely to succeed in life than brilliant people born into poor families, according to a new genetic study that focuses on the intersection of genes and economics.
Research economists used a genome-based measure to better understand how genetic benefits are distributed between the poor and the wealthy, The Washington Post reports.
The findings raise questions about the cherished belief that America is a place where people succeed or fail based on their inherent merit and willingness to work hard.
Children born to rich families are more likely to go to college and succeed in life than those who are equally intelligent but born into poor families, according to new genomic research
Researchers found that intellectual gifts are actually fairly evenly disbursed between the rich and poor – but eventual success and educational attainment is weighted heavily in favor of the haves over the have nots, according to a working paper recently published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Ultimately, less than a quarter (24 percent) of high-potential people born to low-income fathers graduated from college, compared to 63 percent of those born to high-income fathers.
‘This raises concerns about wasted potential arising from limited household resources,’ researchers wrote.
At the other end of the spectrum, 27 percent of those with low-potential but high-income fathers graduate from college – a slightly greater proportion than that of the smartest among the poorest families.
Co-author Nicholas Papageorge, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, told The Washington Post that the results allow researchers to do something they hadn’t been able to before when analyzing educational and economic outcomes – control research variables based on home environments and family income.
For example, wealthier parents are more likely to feed their children vegetables, read to them and get them to take classes that will enhance their early development.
‘Two people who are genetically similar can have strikingly different IQ test scores because the richer ones have invested more in their kids,’ Papageorge told The Post.
This occurs even when two people are genetically ‘actually quite similar,’ he added.
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The new report in NBER adds to findings by a separate set of researchers who reviewed millions of base pairs (the building blocks of the DNA double helix) from more than 1.1 million individual genomes in a search for correlations between genetics and educational attainment.
Those researchers drilled their findings down to a single score index that can be used to predict how much education a person may attain based on their genetics. They published their findings in the July edition of Nature Genetics.
The researchers who published in NBER built upon that work by using the index to analyze the genomic data and educational attainment of roughly 20,000 people born from 1905-1964.
To be clear, researchers aren’t saying that one gene accounts for intelligence. Rather, geneticists sough correlations in the millions of building blocks on the DNA’s double-helix ‘ladder’ to better understand what they may explain when a multitude of factors are taken together.
And their independent tests consistently found that individual scores on the genetic index can predict college graduation rates.
When that understanding is coupled with other genetic findings (for instance, those related to fetal brain development), researchers believe they have found an explanation for an 11-13 percent variation in academic achievement between the rich and poor.
One limitation of both studies is that data was predominately drawn from white people because the vast majority of genomic data that researchers have to work with comes from people of European descent.
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