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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — More than four decades ago, a psychologist’s landmark idea linked family income with children’s cognitive abilities. Now, new findings by a group that includes a University of Florida Health researcher show no evidence for that theory.
“While children from higher socioeconomic status backgrounds have much better cognitive outcomes on average than do those from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds, genetics appears to matter just as much for both groups,” said David Figlio, Ph.D., dean of the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy, the primary author of the study and a former UF economics professor. “Genes matter. Environment matters. But we find no evidence that the two interact.”
In the largest and most diverse study of its kind, the researchers analyzed birth and school records from more than 24,000 twins and nearly 275,000 siblings in Florida. They analyzed math and reading test scores for children in the third through eighth grades who were born between 1994 and 2002.
They found the children’s socioeconomic status was unrelated to the genetic influences that drive cognition and test scores, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Cognitive abilities are the brain-based skills used to perform mental tasks, pay attention and communicate. The study focused on twins because they allow researchers to disentangle the role of genes and environment in development.
“There’s been an idea that genetic influences on cognitive development are more important for kids from rich families than kids from poor families. This has been based on studies using twins. We looked at the question using far more twins than anyone else has, and we don’t find any evidence for this idea,” said Jeremy Freese, Ph.D., a Stanford University sociology professor and primary author of the study.