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Economic Background and Educational Attainment: The Role of Gene-Environment Interactions

Owen Thompson

Journal of Human Resources, 2014, vol. 49, issue 2

Abstract: On average, children from less economically privileged households have lower levels of educational attainment than their higher-income peers, and this association has important implications for intergenerational mobility and equality of opportunity. This paper shows that the income-education association varies greatly across groups of children with different versions of a specific gene, monoamine-oxidase A (MAOA), which impacts neurotransmitter activity. For children with one MAOA variant, increases in household income have the expected positive association with education. For children with another variant, who comprise over half of the population, this relationship is much weaker. These results hold when the interactive effects are identified using genetic variation between full biological siblings, which genetic principles assert is as good as randomly assigned.

Date: 2014
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