(Psychological Science https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620924677)
Matt McGue, Emily A. Willoughby, Aldo Rustichini, Wendy Johnson, William G. Iacono, James J. Lee
We investigated intergenerational educational and occupational mobility in a sample of 2,594 adult offspring and 2,530 of their parents. Participants completed assessments of general cognitive ability and five noncognitive factors related to social achievement; 88% were also genotyped, allowing computation of educational-attainment polygenic scores. Most offspring were socially mobile. Offspring who scored at least 1 standard deviation higher than their parents on both cognitive and noncognitive measures rarely moved down and frequently moved up. Polygenic scores were also associated with social mobility. Inheritance of a favorable subset of parent alleles was associated with moving up, and inheritance of an unfavorable subset was associated with moving down. Parents’ education did not moderate the association of offspring’s skill with mobility, suggesting that low-skilled offspring from advantaged homes were not protected from downward mobility. These data suggest that cognitive and noncognitive skills as well as genetic factors contribute to the reordering of social standing that takes place across generations.From the paper:
We believe that a reasonable explanation of our findings is that the degree to which individuals are more or less skilled than their parents contributes to their upward or downward mobility. Behavioral genetic and genomic research has established the heritability of social achievements (Conley, 2016) as well as the skills thought to underlie them (Bouchard & McGue, 2003). Nonetheless, these associations may be due to passive gene–environment correlation, whereby high-achieving parents both transmit genes and provide a rearing environment that promotes their children’s social success (Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Our within-family design controlled for passive gene–environment correlation effects. Although offspring inherit all of their genes from their parents, they inherit a random subset of parental alleles because of meiotic segregation. Consequently, some offspring inherit a favorable subset of their parents’ alleles, whereas others inherit a less favorable subset. We found, as did previous researchers (Belsky et al., 2018), that the inheritance of a favorable subset of alleles was associated with an increased likelihood of upward mobility...
...In summary, our analysis of intergenerational social mobility in a sample of 2,594 offspring from 1,321 families found that (a) most individuals were educationally and occupationally mobile, (b) mobility was predicted by offspring–parent differences in skills and genetic endowment, and (c) the relationship of offspring skills with social mobility did not vary significantly by parent social background. In an era in which there is legitimate concern over social stagnation, our findings are noteworthy in identifying the circumstances when parents’ educational and occupational success is not reproduced across generations.
See also Game Over: Genomic Prediction of Social Mobility (PNAS July 9, 2018: 201801238). Both papers provide out of sample validation of polygenic predictors for cognitive ability, specifically of the relationship to intergenerational social mobility.