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

Perline A. Demange, Jouke Jan Hottenga, Abdel Abdellaoui, Espen Moen Eilertsen, Margherita Malanchini, Benjamin W Domingue, Emma Armstrong-Carter, Eveline L de Zeeuw, Kaili Rimfeld, Dorret I. Boomsma, Elsje van Bergen, Gerome Breen, Michel G. Nivard, Rosa Cheesman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding how parents’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills influence offspring education is essential for educational, family and economic policy. We use genetics (GWAS-by-subtraction) to assess a latent, broad non-cognitive skills dimension. To index parental effects controlling for genetic transmission, we estimate indirect parental genetic effects of polygenic scores on childhood and adulthood educational outcomes, using siblings (N = 47,459), adoptees (N = 6407), and parent-offspring trios (N = 2534) in three UK and Dutch cohorts. We find that parental cognitive and non-cognitive skills affect offspring education through their environment: on average across cohorts and designs, indirect genetic effects explain 36–40% of population polygenic score associations. However, indirect genetic effects are lower for achievement in the Dutch cohort, and for the adoption design. We identify potential causes of higher sibling- and trio-based estimates: prenatal indirect genetic effects, population stratification, and assortative mating. Our phenotype-agnostic, genetically sensitive approach has established overall environmental effects of parents’ skills, facilitating future mechanistic work.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4801
JournalNature Communications
Early online date23 Aug 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Aug 2022


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