How well a child does at school is influenced both by genes inherited and not inherited from their parents. The corresponding study was published in AJHG by researchers led by University College London.
Both nurture- the environment- and nature- genes that are inherited- impact a child’s development. A cross between both of these factors is called ‘genetic nurture’ and essentially happens when a parent’s genes affect the environment they create for their children, even if the children themselves don’t inherit those genes.
In the present paper, researchers reviewed and analyzed 12 studies from several countries using a technique called polygenic scoring to understand the influence of millions of genetic variants on the academic attainment of 38,654 families.
In the end, they found that genetic nurture had about half as much effect on academic attainment as inherited genetic traits. While genetic inheritance explained at least 2.89% of the variance in educational outcomes, genetic nurture explained at least 1.28%.
The researchers say that the actual genetic effects could be multiple times higher as polygenic scores capture only a small amount of heritability in educational outcomes. Nevertheless, they expect the proportions of direct genetic inheritance and genetic nurture to remain the same.
The researchers also found that mothers and fathers had similar genetic nurture effects on their children. This, they say, means that both parents are equally important when creating an environment conducive to learning.
“It is too early yet to say whether the most important is what happens within the family (such as parents reading to their children) or outside the family (such as parents choosing the best school and activities).” said Dr. Biyao Wang, first author of the study.
“Next, we hope to work out which pathways genetic nurture operates through, if it changes during different stages of development, and identify what aspects of the environment are most important. This will be key to designing new interventions to encourage and support all children to succeed,” she continued.