Success could be in your DNA, according to a new study. Scientists have found social mobility is partially written into our genes, which can make us high-flyers or high-earners.
A study of more than 20,000 people in the UK, US and New Zealand found those with certain genetic variations earned more money, had better careers and got further in education.
Regardless of which class they came from, their genes could help them do better in life than their parents before them.
The study lends weight to the theory that nature rather than nurture largely determines how well people get on in their lives.
A team of researchers from Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, undertook a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on more than 20,000 individuals from Britain, New Zealand, and the United States who were followed from childhood into adulthood.
The GWAS looked for thousands of tiny changes in genetic code in the individuals that previous studies have linked with success at school.
Unsurprisingly, they found that men and women with ‘genes for education’ – or high polygenic scores – did better academically.
But the same genes also helped make someone upwardly mobile.
Those with a high polygenic score did better in terms of education, occupation, and wealth, compared with their parents and siblings, regardless of the individuals’ familial social class as children.
Among pairs of siblings, the brother or sister with the best score tended to be more successful.
Lead author Dr Daniel Belsky, from the Department of Population Health Sciences at Duke University, said: ‘Findings from these analyses show that education-linked genetics may provide clues to biological processes in human development that influence success in school, at work, and in the accumulation of wealth across life.’
The authors say our genes explain only roughly four per cent of differences in social mobility.
People with a high genetic score for education also tend to come from more affluent homes.
But even when parents’ social class is taken into account, the study found genes still have an effect.
A mother’s genetic score could even predict her child’s educational achievement, suggesting someone’s genes could even improve the success of the next generation by changing their own behaviour.
One explanation for the connection between education-linked genetics and social class is that a person’s education-linked genetics influence their development of traits and behaviours that, in turn, contribute to their success.
For example, education-linked genetics could influence brain development in ways that affect behaviour, leading to differences in achievement in school and beyond.
The latest study build earlier work by Duke University which found similar results on a smaller test group of 1,000 people in New Zealand.
Data available ranged from the age at which they said their first words to how much money they earn as adults.
As with the most recent study, Dr Belsky also studied their DNA, looking for ‘success genes’.
As babies, individuals with ‘success genes’ started to speak earlier, as children they learned to read more quickly and by the age of 38, they had more prestigious jobs, earned more and travelled more.
They were also more friendly and likeable and had wealthier spouses.
Dr Belsky said: ‘It’s a “nice guys finish first” story that I didn’t expect to find.’
The genes also helped make individuals upwardly mobile.
However, despite their achievements, those with the ‘genes for education’ were no happier or healthier than other adults.
Writing in the journal Psychological Science, Dr Belsky said that the effect of the ‘genes for education’ on any one child’s life is small.
However, boosting their impact could have a huge impact on the population overall.
Future possibilities include tailoring children’s education to their genes.
Another, more controversial possibility, involves genetic screening of embryos, to give IVF patients babies with the greatest odds of growing up to be a success.
However, Dr Belsky told New Scientist magazine that so many genes are involved that it is impossible to do this safely.