Genetic Fortune: Winning or Losing Education, Income, and Health

TitleGenetic Fortune: Winning or Losing Education, Income, and Health
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsKweon, H, Burik, C, Linnér, RKarlsson, de Vlaming, R, Okbay, A, Martschenko, D, Harden, K, DiPrete, T, Koellinger, PD
Series TitleTinbergen Institue Discussion Paper
Document NumberTI 2020-053/V
InstitutionTinbergen Institute
KeywordsEducation, Genetics, health, heritability, Income, Inequality, polygenic score

We study the effects of genetic endowments on inequalities in education, income, and health.
Specifically, we conduct the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) of individual
income, using data from individuals of European ancestries. We find that ≈10% of the variance
in occupational wages can be attributed to genetic similarities between individuals who are
only very distantly related to each other. Our GWAS (N = 282,963) identifies 45 approximately
independent genetic loci for occupational wages, each with a tiny effect size (R
2<0.04%). An
aggregated genetic score constructed from these GWAS results accounts for ≈1% of the
variance in self-reported income in two independent samples (N = 29,440) and improves upon
the variance captured by a genetic score obtained from previous GWAS results for educational
attainment. A one-standard-deviation increase in our genetic score for occupational wages is
associated with a 6–8% increase in self-reported hourly wages. We exploit random genetic
differences between ~35,000 biological siblings to show that (i) roughly half of the covariance
between our genetic score and socioeconomic outcomes is causal, (ii) genetic luck for higher
income is linked with better health outcomes in late adulthood, and (iii) having a college degree
partly mediates this relationship. We also demonstrate that the returns to schooling remain
substantial even after controlling for genetic confounds, with an average of 8–11% higher
hourly wages for each additional year of education obtained in a US sample. Thus, the
implications of genetic endowments are malleable, for example, via policies targeting

Citation Key11021