Do Genes Determine Success In Life ? 

By  Editorial Team

It is an age old question, can genes determine success in life? Based on a previous genome-wide association study (GWAS) of more than 100,000 individuals where molecular-genetic predictors of educational attainment were identified, this study was conducted as a follow up. It also looked at how people genes influenced their education, which in turn influenced their ability to be successful.

People with certain genetic variants are more likely to complete more years of school, therefore getting a better job and having a better social life, therefore becoming more successful.


Psychological characteristics link genes with upward social mobility, according to data collected from almost 1000 individuals over four decades. The data suggest that various psychological factors play a role in linking a person’s genetic profile and several important life outcomes, including professional achievement, financial security, geographic mobility, and upward social mobility.
The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The study, led by psychological scientist Daniel W. Belsky of Duke University School of Medicine, builds on previous research indicating a genetic continuum that predicts individuals’ educational achievement.

Earlier Study

In the earlier study, the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium examined millions of genetic variants in more than 100,000 people and found that these variants could be aggregated and turned into a “polygenic score” that was linked with educational attainment. Participants with polygenic scores above zero were more likely to complete more years of schooling, whereas those with scores below zero were likely to complete fewer years of schooling.


“Getting a good education requires many of the same skills and abilities needed to get ahead in life more generally, so we hypothesized that the same genetics that predicted success in schooling would predict success in life,” says Belsky.

Genes Can Determine Success

The article goes on to say: “Importantly, the results indicated that higher polygenic scores were associated with social mobility — children with higher polygenic scores tended to achieve more socioeconomic success even if they were born into families that were relatively poor.


Intelligence partly accounted for the association between genes and life outcomes, but so did other psychological characteristics, including self-control and interpersonal skills (e.g., being friendly).
But there were some important life outcomes that the polygenic scores did not predict. When the researchers looked at whether polygenic score predicted children’s physical health – measured from repeated clinical exams across childhood – they found no evidence of an association.

Together, the findings provide glimpses into how genes may ultimately shape our lives over time, but the researchers emphasize that the associations between polygenic score and life outcomes are small:
“We can make only very weak predictions about how far a child can go in life based on their genes,” Belsky explains.

The data currently available do not provide sufficient information to guide educational interventions or other real-world applications; nonetheless, they raise provocative questions that ought to be discussed among scientists, policymakers, and the members of the public.”

Co-authors of the study include Terrie E. Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi (Duke University and King’s College London); David L. Corcoran, HonaLee Harrington, Renate Houts, Karen Sugden, and Benjamin S. Williams (Duke University); Benjamin Domingue (Stanford University); Sean Hogan, Sandhya Ramrakha, and Richie Poulton (University of Otago).

Read the whole article: Genetic Variations Linked with Social and Economic Success

Journal Reference:

D. W. Belsky, T. E. Moffitt, D. L. Corcoran, B. Domingue, H. Harrington, S. Hogan, R. Houts, S. Ramrakha, K. Sugden, B. S. Williams, R. Poulton, A. Caspi. The Genetics of Success: How Single-Nucleotide Polymorphisms Associated With Educational Attainment Relate to Life-Course Development. Psychological Science, 2016; DOI: 10.1177/0956797616643070

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