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Genetics and the geography of health, behaviour and attainment

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

Daniel W. Belsky, Avshalom Caspi, Louise Arseneault, David L. Corcoran, Benjamin W. Domingue, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Renate M. Houts, Jonathan S. Mill, Terrie E. Moffitt, Joseph Prinz, Karen Sugden, Jasmin Wertz, Benjamin Williams, Candice L. Odgers

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-586
Number of pages11
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number6
Early online date8 Apr 2019
E-pub ahead of print8 Apr 2019
Published1 Jun 2019

King's Authors


Young people’s life chances can be predicted by characteristics of their neighbourhood 1 . Children growing up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods exhibit worse physical and mental health and suffer poorer educational and economic outcomes than children growing up in advantaged neighbourhoods. Increasing recognition that aspects of social inequalities tend, in fact, to be geographical inequalities 2–5 is stimulating research and focusing policy interest on the role of place in shaping health, behaviour and social outcomes. Where neighbourhood effects are causal, neighbourhood-level interventions can be effective. Where neighbourhood effects reflect selection of families with different characteristics into different neighbourhoods, interventions should instead target families or individuals directly. To test how selection may affect different neighbourhood-linked problems, we linked neighbourhood data with genetic, health and social outcome data for >7,000 European-descent UK and US young people in the E-Risk and Add Health studies. We tested selection/concentration of genetic risks for obesity, schizophrenia, teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes in high-risk neighbourhoods, including genetic analysis of neighbourhood mobility. Findings argue against genetic selection/concentration as an explanation for neighbourhood gradients in obesity and mental health problems. By contrast, modest genetic selection/concentration was evident for teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes, suggesting that neighbourhood effects for these outcomes should be interpreted with care.

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