Recent study reports that children’s education is linked to their parents’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills

Summary: Parents’ genes linked to both cognitive and non-cognitive skills affect their child’s educational outcomes, a new study reports.

The study, which was conducted in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and published in Nature Communications, analyzed the educational records and genetic data of over 40,000 children. The researchers came to the conclusion that parental genes can influence their children’s educational outcomes through the environment they create, even in cases where the genetic factors are not inherited by the offspring. This type of genetic influence is referred to as a “indirect genetic effect.”

The researchers contend that a better knowledge of the mechanisms underpinning the transfer of educational outcomes from parents to their children might assist to shape future initiatives to address inequality in education. [Citation needed]

The phrase “non-cognitive skills” is an umbrella word that is used in the field of education to represent a variety of traits including academic motivation, social skills, learning techniques, and persistence. “Cognitive skills” are characteristics such as “working memory” and “verbal IQ,” amongst others. Studies conducted in the past have looked at the extent to which children’s non-cognitive talents might affect the educational results for those youngsters.

However, relatively little study has been done on the role of parents’ non-cognitive talents on their children’s development.

In addition, research on the ways in which parents influence their children’s education has, for the most part, neglected to take into account the inheritance of genetic traits. This is an essential step that is required to determine the extent to which parents’ genes are actually influenced by the circumstances in which their children are raised.

The researchers analyzed educational outcomes from three different data sets – the UK Biobank, the UK Twins Early Development Study, and the Netherlands Twins Register – in order to determine the extent to which environmental factors influence the genes that are passed down from parents to their children. The educational outcomes of the children who took part in the study included the results of standardized tests, as well as grades that were reported by their teachers, and the total number of years that the children spent in school.

They discovered that parental genes for both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, which are not inherited by their offspring, nonetheless impact their child’s educational achievement even if these qualities are not passed down from generation to generation. It is possible for a parent’s genetic disposition to be passed on to their kid even if that disposition is not inherited by the parent, because parents are more likely to provide an environment in which tenacity may develop.

Despite the fact that these genes are not passed on to offspring, they nonetheless have an effect on society because of the settings that parents build for their children.

“Classic ‘parental nurture’ could be important – for example, genes influence parents to teach their child to stay focussed and motivated. But broader mechanisms are also key – for example, genetic predispositions play a role in a parent’s decision to move to a certain neighbourhood, which in turn influences the child’s education,” said Dr Rosa Cheesman.

According to the first author of the study, Perline Demange, who is affiliated with Vrije Universiteit, “We didn’t merely employ one genetic design in one dataset. We are confident in our assertion that the parental environment, which includes both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities, is important for their children’s academic achievement since our findings were extensively replicated across the various approaches and across studies.

“Education is highly predictive of both social mobility and health over the course of someone’s life. By understanding the conditions for success, we can help to inform policy to give future generations the best possible start.”


Estimating effects of parents’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills on offspring education using polygenic scores

It is crucial for educational policy, family policy, and economic policy that we understand how the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of parents impact the education of their kids.

In order to evaluate a latent, wide non-cognitive skills component, we apply genetics (GWAS-by-subtraction). We estimate the indirect parental genetic effects of polygenic scores on childhood and adulthood educational outcomes by using siblings (N = 47,459), adoptees (N = 6407), and parent-offspring trios (N = 2534) from three UK and Dutch cohorts. This allows us to index parental effects while controlling for genetic transmission.

We find that the cognitive and non-cognitive abilities of parents have an influence on their children’s schooling by way of the children’s surroundings. On average across all cohorts and designs, indirect genetic effects explain 36–40% of population polygenic score relationships. [Citation needed] On the other hand, indirect genetic impacts on achievement are significantly smaller in the Dutch cohort, as well as for the adoption design.

We identify three possible reasons for the larger estimates obtained using sibling and trio data: prenatal indirect genetic effects, population stratification, and assortative mating. Because of the phenotype-independent and genetically sensitive strategy that we took, we were able to determine the total environmental impacts of the parents’ abilities, which will make future mechanistic study easier.

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