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, 7 (2), e30320

Socioeconomic Status (SES) and Children's Intelligence (IQ): In a UK-representative Sample SES Moderates the Environmental, Not Genetic, Effect on IQ

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Socioeconomic Status (SES) and Children's Intelligence (IQ): In a UK-representative Sample SES Moderates the Environmental, Not Genetic, Effect on IQ

Ken B Hanscombe et al. PLoS One.

Abstract

Background: The environment can moderate the effect of genes - a phenomenon called gene-environment (GxE) interaction. Several studies have found that socioeconomic status (SES) modifies the heritability of children's intelligence. Among low-SES families, genetic factors have been reported to explain less of the variance in intelligence; the reverse is found for high-SES families. The evidence however is inconsistent. Other studies have reported an effect in the opposite direction (higher heritability in lower SES), or no moderation of the genetic effect on intelligence.

Methods: Using 8716 twin pairs from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), we attempted to replicate the reported moderating effect of SES on children's intelligence at ages 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 14: i.e., lower heritability in lower-SES families. We used a twin model that allowed for a main effect of SES on intelligence, as well as a moderating effect of SES on the genetic and environmental components of intelligence.

Results: We found greater variance in intelligence in low-SES families, but minimal evidence of GxE interaction across the eight ages. A power calculation indicated that a sample size of about 5000 twin pairs is required to detect moderation of the genetic component of intelligence as small as 0.25, with about 80% power - a difference of 11% to 53% in heritability, in low- (-2 standard deviations, SD) and high-SES (+2 SD) families. With samples at each age of about this size, the present study found no moderation of the genetic effect on intelligence. However, we found the greater variance in low-SES families is due to moderation of the environmental effect - an environment-environment interaction.

Conclusions: In a UK-representative sample, the genetic effect on intelligence is similar in low- and high-SES families. Children's shared experiences appear to explain the greater variation in intelligence in lower SES.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Continuous moderator model.
The measured moderator (M) has a mediating or main effect (βM) on the trait (T), as well as a potential moderating effect on the variance components of the residual (after the main effect has been partialled out). A, C, E = additive genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental variance components (of residual T); a, c, e = unmoderated elements of genetic, shared, and nonshared path coefficients; βA, βC, βE = moderated elements of the genetic, shared, and nonshared path coefficients; Mi = measured moderator level for the ith twin pair (both twins in a pair have the same value for obligatorily-shared moderators like SES); μ = the mean of the trait (T); 1 = the constant by which μ is multiplied, values of the trait are given by 1μ+βM.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Unstandardized IQ variance components by SES index 1.
Unstandardized genetic and environmental variance components for IQ as a function of first contact parental education and occupation (SES index 1). To the top right of each graph is a stacked plot showing the total variance in IQ as a function of SES.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Unstandardized IQ variance components by SES index 2.
Unstandardized genetic and environmental variance components for IQ as a function of 7-year parental education and occupation (SES index 2). To the top right of each graph is a stacked plot showing the total variance in IQ as a function of SES.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Unstandardized IQ variance components by SES index 3.
Unstandardized genetic and environmental variance components for IQ as a function of 9-year family income (SES index 3). To the top right of each graph is a stacked plot showing the total variance in IQ as a function of SES.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Power to detect GxE when only genetic moderation is simulated.
Power to detect the presence of a genetic moderation with the continuous moderator model (genetic moderation only simulated). Equal number of MZ and DZ twin pairs simulated (N = 500, means 500 MZ and 500 DZ pairs). N = sample size; MZ = monozygotic; DZ = dizygotic; βA = moderated element of genetic path coefficient.
Figure 6
Figure 6. Power to detect GxE when genetic and environmental moderation are simulated.
Power to detect the presence of a genetic moderation with the continuous moderator model (equal genetic, shared and nonshared environmental moderation simulated). Equal number of MZ and DZ twin pairs simulated (N = 500, means 500 MZ and 500 DZ pairs). N = sample size; MZ = monozygotic; DZ = dizygotic; βA, βC, βE = moderated elements of genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental path coefficients.
Figure 7
Figure 7. Age 9 IQ in low- and high-SES groups – heterogeneity analysis.
Variance components of 9-year IQ in low- and high-SES families (bottom and top 25% of SES distribution). Top, middle, and bottom rows show IQ as a function of 18-month, 7-year, and 9-year SES respectively (SES indices 1, 2, and 3). In the left column are the unstandardized estimates; in the right column are the standardized estimates.

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