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The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence

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Eva Krapohl, Kaili Rimfeld, Nicholas G Shakeshaft, Maciej Trzaskowski, Andrew McMillan, Jean-Baptiste Pingault, Kathryn Asbury, Nicole Harlaar, Yulia Kovas, Philip S Dale, Robert Plomin

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15273-15278
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume111
Issue number42
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2014

King's Authors

Abstract

Because educational achievement at the end of compulsory schooling represents a major tipping point in life, understanding its causes and correlates is important for individual children, their families, and society. Here we identify the general ingredients of educational achievement using a multivariate design that goes beyond intelligence to consider a wide range of predictors, such as self-efficacy, personality, and behavior problems, to assess their independent and joint contributions to educational achievement. We use a genetically sensitive design to address the question of why educational achievement is so highly heritable. We focus on the results of a United Kingdom-wide examination, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), which is administered at the end of compulsory education at age 16. GCSE scores were obtained for 13,306 twins at age 16, whom we also assessed contemporaneously on 83 scales that were condensed to nine broad psychological domains, including intelligence, self-efficacy, personality, well-being, and behavior problems. The mean of GCSE core subjects (English, mathematics, science) is more heritable (62%) than the nine predictor domains (35-58%). Each of the domains correlates significantly with GCSE results, and these correlations are largely mediated genetically. The main finding is that, although intelligence accounts for more of the heritability of GCSE than any other single domain, the other domains collectively account for about as much GCSE heritability as intelligence. Together with intelligence, these domains account for 75% of the heritability of GCSE. We conclude that the high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence.

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