Parental Separation and Children’s Genetic Influences on Education across 20th Century Birth Cohorts

TitleParental Separation and Children’s Genetic Influences on Education across 20th Century Birth Cohorts
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationForthcoming
AuthorsVan Winkle, Z, Baier, T
Keywordscohort comparison, Education, Gene-Environment Interaction, parental separation

Whether the family context matters for genetic influences on children’s educational attainment
remains an open question. Previous research mainly considers parents’ socio-economic
standing and overlooks a key dimension of social stratification: childhood family structure. We
focus on the extent that parental separation affects genetic influences on educational attainment
across 20th Century birth cohorts. This study draws on the US Health and Retirement Study
(HRS) to estimate the association between education polygenic scores and educational
attainment of adults born across the 20th Century who experienced a parental separation before
age 16 compared to adults who lived continuously with both parents. We find that genetic
effects are smaller for adults whose parents separated compared to adults whose parents
remained coupled. Moreover, the magnitude of genetic effects remained constant across
cohorts for adults from two-parent households, but decreased for adults whose parents
separated. Additional analyses based on the comparison with adults who lost a parent during
childhood indicated that family instability rather than parental absence supresses genetic effects
among those whose parents separated. Our findings highlight the importance of socio-historic
variation in distinct family conditions linked to parental separation that in turn affect children’s
chances to tap their genetic potential for education.

Citation Key12209