The recent molecular advances in the understanding of the genetics of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have their grounding in studies examining IBD within different family groups and populations. The risk of IBD is highest in first-degree relatives of an IBD proband but more distant relatives are also at increased risk. The risk is higher for relatives of a CD proband. The risks of developing IBD for 'high-risk' relatives might be as great as 1 in 3 but in general first-degree relatives have a 1 in 10-20 risk. Three recent systematic studies have identified a total of 326 European twin pairs to examine disease concordance rates. The derived heritability in Crohn's disease is greater than for many complex diseases and is currently under detailed examination. Strong concordance has been shown, in particular for disease type and disease location, in multiplex families and twin studies. More than 75% children are diagnosed with IBD at a younger age than their parents but true genetic anticipation appears unlikely.