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The stability of educational achievement across school years is largely explained by genetic factors

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Original languageEnglish
Journalnpj Science of Learning
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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Abstract

Little is known about the etiology of developmental change and continuity in educational achievement. Here, we study achievement from primary school to the end of compulsory education for 6000 twin pairs in the UK-representative Twins Early Development Study sample. Results showed that educational achievement is highly heritable across school years and across subjects studied at school (twin heritability ~ 60%; SNP heritability ~ 30%); achievement is highly stable (phenotypic correlations ~0.70 from ages 7 to 16). Twin analyses, applying simplex and common pathway models, showed that genetic factors accounted for most of this stability (70%), even after controlling for intelligence (60%). Shared environmental factors also contributed to the stability, while change was mostly accounted for by individual-specific environmental factors. Polygenic scores, derived from a genome-wide association analysis of adult years of education, also showed stable effects on school achievement. We conclude that the remarkable stability of achievement is largely driven genetically even after accounting for intelligence.

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