Professor of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This paper explores genetic and environmental sources of educational attainments within a gene-environment interaction framework. The main focus is to examine the extent to which growing up in a socially mobile environment might decouple genetic endowments related to educational attainment with actual attainments. Many models of intergenerational transmission of advantage contain both a transmission channel through endowments (i.e. genetics) from parents to children as well as from parental investments and “luck”. Indeed, many scholars consider the intergenerational links due to the transmission of genetically based advantage to place a lower bound on plausible levels of social mobility— that genetics may be able to “lock in” advantage across generations. This paper explores this idea by using new genetic measurements in the Health and Retirement Study to examine gene-environment interactions related to attainments. The results suggest evidence of gene environment interactions: children born in high mobility states have lower genetic penetrance—the interaction between state-level mobility and the polygenic score for education is negative. These results suggest a need to incorporate gene-environment interactions in models of attainment and mobility and to pursue the mechanisms behind the interactions.