A New Genetic Test Could Help Determine Children’s Success

New international research hopes to predict a person’s chance of success just by looking at genetics. 

Scientists from the U.S., U.K. and New Zealand tested the genetics of over 20,000 people and then tracked their lives following the test. Through following up with participants, the scientists tracked over 1 million years of life from birth to late life.

The researchers used a polygenic score to analyze the participants’ genes. A polygenic score takes information from across someone’s genes to measure the genes influence on educational success, career advancement and wealth. The team also studied the parent’s education, income, occupation and financial situation to determine social class.

Dan Belsky, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, led the study. “There are now hundreds of individual variations throughout the genome that are roughly associated with educational outcomes between people,” he told Newsweek.

Girls playing in hay The study also showed that a child’s success wasn’t only determined by their own polygenic score, but the mother’s as well. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Environmental factors are often correlated with polygenic scores—children with high polygenic scores were usually raised in better-off family environments. In fact, children with high polygenic scores tended to advance even farther in life than their parents did.

Belsky’s team also studied siblings to compare what they achieved in life in relation to their polygenic score. “This is really the strongest test of a genetic association that we can conduct because it controls for any differences in ancestry,” Belsky said. By studying siblings who were raised in the same environment and have the same family history, the scientists can see how their individual polygenic scores relate to their outcome in life.

“Two kids with the same parents, growing up in the same household—the one with the higher polygenic score tends to go farther as measured by their education, occupational success and their wealth,” Belsky explained. However, the differences in the success between two siblings with different polygenic scores were less than the differences in the success of people from two different families.

The study also showed that a child’s success wasn’t only determined by their own polygenic score, but the mother’s as well. In fact, the mother’s polygenic score was an even stronger indicator of a child’s success than their own score. 

Despite these findings, this doesn’t mean that you can go take a polygenic test and find out how successful you’ll be in life. “There’s nothing in our study that says these genetic variants are a more powerful predictor of outcomes than family backgrounds,” Belsky explained.