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Using DNA to predict educational trajectories in early adulthood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Ziada Ayorech, Robert Plomin, Sophie von Stumm

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1088-1095
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number5
Early online date31 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019



King's Authors


At the end of compulsory schooling, young adults decide on educational and occupational trajectories that impact their subsequent employability, health and even life expectancy. To understand the antecedents to these decisions, we follow a new approach that considers genetic contributions, which have largely been ignored before. Using genomewide polygenic scores (EA3) from the most recent genomewide association study of years of education in 1.1 million individuals, we tested for genetic influence on early adult decisions in a United Kingdom-representative sample of 5,839 at 18 years of age. EA3 significantly predicted educational trajectories in early adulthood (Nagelkerke R 2 = 10%), χ 2(4) = 571.77, p < .001, indicating that young adults partly adapt their aspirations to their genetic propensities-a concept known as gene- environment correlation. Compared to attending university, a 1 standard deviation increase in EA3 was associated on average with a 51% reduction in the odds of pursuing full-time employment (OR = .47; 95% CI [.43, .51]); an apprenticeship (OR = .49; 95% CI [.45, .54]); or not going in education, employment, or training (OR = .50; 95% CI [.41, .60]). EA3 associations were attenuated when controlling for previous academic achievement and family socioeconomic status. Overall this research illustrates how DNA-based predictions offer novel opportunities for studying the sociodevelopmental structures of life outcomes.

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