A polygenic score for age-at-first-birth predicts disinhibition

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2020 Dec;61(12):1349-1359. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.13224. Epub 2020 Mar 27.


Background: A recent genome-wide association study identified molecular-genetic associations with age-at-first-birth. However, the meaning of these genetic discoveries is unclear. Drawing on evidence linking early pregnancy with disinhibitory behavior, we tested the hypothesis that genetic discoveries for age-at-first-birth predict disinhibition.

Methods: We included participants with genotype data from the two-decade-long Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Study (N = 1,999) and the four-decade-long Dunedin Study (N = 918). We calculated a genome-wide polygenic score for age-at-first-birth and tested whether it was associated with a range of disinhibitory outcomes across the life course, including low childhood self-control; risk for externalizing psychopathology; officially recorded criminal offending; substance dependence; informant reports of disinhibitory problems; and number of lifetime sexual partners. We further tested whether associations were attributable to accelerated pubertal maturation.

Results: In both cohorts, the age-at-first-birth polygenic score predicted low childhood self-control, externalizing psychopathology, officially recorded criminal offending, substance dependence, and number of sexual partners. Associations were modest, but robust across replication. Childhood disinhibition partly mediated associations between the polygenic score and reproductive behaviors. In contrast, associations were not attributable to accelerated pubertal timing.

Conclusions: Genomic discoveries for age-at-first-birth are about more than reproductive biology: They provide insight into the disinhibitory traits and behaviors that accompany early parenthood. Age-at-first-birth is a useful proxy phenotype for researchers interested in disinhibition. Further, interventions that improve self-regulation abilities may benefit young parents and their children.

Keywords: Reproductive behavior; genetics; longitudinal; risk-taking; self-control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Maternal Age*
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / genetics*
  • Problem Behavior*
  • Self-Control*
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Twins / genetics
  • Twins / psychology
  • Young Adult