The Grapevine

Do Our Genes Define Our Earning Capacity?

An analysis of data from the world’s largest public genetic repository, the U.K. Biobank, shows a link between the human genes and how an individual makes or loses money.  

David Hill, a statistical geneticist at the University of Edinburgh, worked with a team of European collaborators to analyze genes stored at the UK Biobank and data from 286,000 participants for their Genome Wide Association Study. 

The researchers looked at 18 million places in the genome to see the genes special in people with higher pay checks. Through genetic calculation, Hill’s team was able to predict a person’s odds of reaching a certain outcome, according to Wired.

However, the figure was small, correctly forecasting only 2.5 percent of the differences in income in an independent sample of Scots. But Hill noted their study still provides valuable information on connections between people’s DNA and their socioeconomic circumstances. 

Hill believes that their findings could guide in the development of a personalized social policy, tailored medicines and social intervention plans. Economists and epidemiologists could also use a “genetic income score” to precisely investigate fundamental questions about inequality. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers can use gene information to evaluate the social programs intended to pull people out of cycles of poverty. 

Genes and actions

In 2011, Philipp Koellinger, an economist at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, along with his colleagues launched a genome-wide association study that aimed to determine the genetic effects from environmental ones for particular traits.

Koellinger continues to seek and analyze gene information to date with a focus on the link between DNA and money. He currently works with 22 cohorts that include more than 800,000 individuals.

The research team is using an algorithm that estimates a person’s income using his or her occupation, age, sex and housing type. Koellinger said the method could provide a more accurate genetic predictor of income. 

The project is still in its early phases but Koellinger hopes to release initial results in late 2019. He said he plans to invite critics to help analyze genes and eliminate the risks of having errors in his interpretations. 

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