Separating Measured Genetic and Environmental Effects: Evidence Linking Parental Genotype and Adopted Child Outcomes

Behav Genet. 2020 Sep;50(5):301-309. doi: 10.1007/s10519-020-10000-4. Epub 2020 Apr 30.


There has been widespread adoption of genome wide summary scores (polygenic scores) as tools for studying the importance of genetics and associated life course mechanisms across a range of demographic and socioeconomic outcomes. However, an often unacknowledged issue with these studies is that parental genetics impact both child environments and child genetics, leaving the effects of polygenic scores difficult to interpret. This paper uses multi-generational data containing polygenic scores for parents (n = 7193) and educational outcomes for adopted (n = 855) and biological (n = 20,939) children, many raised in the same families, which allows us to separate the influence of parental polygenic scores on children outcomes between environmental (adopted children) and environmental and genetic (biological children) effects. Our results complement recent work on "genetic nurture" by showing associations of parental polygenic scores with adopted children's schooling, providing additional evidence that polygenic scores combine genetic and environmental influences and that research designs are needed to separate these estimated impacts.

Keywords: Adoption study; Educational attainment; Indirect genetic effects; Polygenic score; Wisconsin longitudinal study.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adoption*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Genotype*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Multifactorial Inheritance*
  • Parents