DNA influences selection of partners for educational achievement

Published by  News Archive

On 23rd Nov 2016

A study co-led by the University of East Anglia has found that people with genes for high educational achievement tend to marry, and have children with, people with similar DNA.

Humans generally do not choose their partners randomly, but rather mate ‘assortatively’, choosing people with similar traits. Among the highest ranking qualities people look for in a potential partner are intelligence and educational attainment.

While it is well known that humans mate assortatively in relation to education - people with similar education levels marry each other - this is one of the first studies to show that this has significance at a DNA level.

The researchers argue that this could increase genetic and social inequality in future generations, since children of couples who mate assortatively are more unequal genetically than those of people who mate more randomly. 

The study, published in the journal Intelligence, was co-led by Dr David Hugh-Jones, from UEA’s School of Economics, and Dr Abdel Abdellaoui, of the Department of Biological Psychology at VU University in The Netherlands.

They examined whether assortative mating for educational achievement could be detected in the DNA of approximately 1600 married or cohabiting couples in the UK. The sample was drawn from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, a survey that aims to be representative of the population.

Dr Hugh-Jones, a senior lecturer in economics, said: “Our findings show strong evidence for the presence of genetic assortative mating for education in the UK. The consequences of assortative mating on education and cognitive abilities are relevant for society, and for the genetic make-up and therefore the evolutionary development of subsequent generations.

“Assortative mating on inheritable traits that are indicative of socio-economic status, such as educational achievement, increases the genetic variance of characteristics in the population. This may increase social inequality, for example with respect to education or income.

“When growing social inequality is, partly, driven by a growing biological inequality, inequalities in society may be harder to overcome and the effects of assortative mating may accumulate with each generation.”

The researchers used polygenic scores that predict educational attainment to see whether they predicted the partner’s own educational attainment and polygenic score. They found that the scores correlated between partners and significantly predicted partners' educational outcome, for both sexes, in that individuals with a stronger genetic predisposition for higher educational achievement have partners who are more educated.

The researchers also tested whether their data could be explained by other factors, for example by people simply meeting their partners because they lived in the same county. They re-matched individuals with random partners within the same educational levels and geographical locations. However, they found that the scores of the original couples showed greater similarities than the randomly generated pairs, indicating significant genetic assortative mating for educational attainment regardless of educational level and geographic location.

The study ‘Assortative mating on educational attainment leads to genetic spousal resemblance for causal alleles’, David Hugh-Jones, Karin Verweij, Beate St Pourcain and Abdel Abdellaoui, is published in Intelligence.

Latest News

  News
Letters on wooden blocks spelling out the word dementia
26 Nov 2021

De-cluttering may not help people with dementia

A clutter-free environment may not help people with dementia carry out daily tasks – according to a new UEA study.

Read more >
  News
Two fruit flies facing each other on a stick of celery.
24 Nov 2021

How eating less in early life could help with reproduction later on

Switching from a restricted diet to eating as much as you like could be beneficial for reproduction in later life, according to new UEA research.

Read more >
  News
A jaguar in the Pantanal, South America
23 Nov 2021

Wildlife conservation and economically viable land use are compatible

Wildlife conservation on land that is also economically viable is possible, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia.

Read more >
  News
Landslide into river near the village of Chakhu
19 Nov 2021

Earthquakes and rainfall lead to increase in landslides in Nepal

Earthquakes and extreme rainfall can lead to a six-fold increase in the rates of rainfall-triggered landslides occurring during Nepal’s monsoon season, according...

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
Landslide into river near the village of Chakhu
19 Nov 2021

Earthquakes and rainfall lead to increase in landslides in Nepal

Earthquakes and extreme rainfall can lead to a six-fold increase in the rates of rainfall-triggered landslides occurring during Nepal’s monsoon season, according...

Read more >
  News
Image of computer keyboard with the words 'Employee Wellbeing' on one of the keys
18 Nov 2021

Staff wellbeing programmes help social relationships and reduce bullying

Programmes aimed at supporting employees’ health and wellbeing can also benefit their social relationships and reduce bullying, according to a new study...

Read more >
  News
White vape smoke across a blue sky
17 Nov 2021

Flavoured vapes less harmful to young people than smoking and could help teen smokers quit

Flavoured vapes are much less harmful to young people than smoking, and could help teen smokers quit tobacco – according to new UEA research.

Read more >
  News
Aerial view of UEA campus
18 Nov 2021

UEA researchers named in world’s 2021 most highly cited list

Scientists from the University of East Anglia have been named in the annual Highly Cited Researchers list for 2021.

Read more >
  News
11 Nov 2021

UEA’s Enterprise Centre showcased at COP26 as one of the world’s most sustainable buildings

The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia will feature in an exhibition at COP26, as one of the most exemplary sustainable building projects in the...

Read more >
  News
02 Nov 2021

Read November issue of yoUr chEm mAg

The November edition of UEA's Chemistry Magazine is now available.

Read more >