The Nature of Nurture: Using a Virtual-Parent Design to Test Parenting Effects on Children's Educational Attainment in Genotyped Families

Twin Research and Human Genetics : the Official Journal of the International Society for Twin Studies
Timothy C BatesNathan A Gillespie


Research on environmental and genetic pathways to complex traits such as educational attainment (EA) is confounded by uncertainty over whether correlations reflect effects of transmitted parental genes, causal family environments, or some, possibly interactive, mixture of both. Thus, an aggregate of thousands of alleles associated with EA (a polygenic risk score; PRS) may tap parental behaviors and home environments promoting EA in the offspring. New methods for unpicking and determining these causal pathways are required. Here, we utilize the fact that parents pass, at random, 50% of their genome to a given offspring to create independent scores for the transmitted alleles (conventional EA PRS) and a parental score based on alleles not transmitted to the offspring (EA VP_PRS). The formal effect of non-transmitted alleles on offspring attainment was tested in 2,333 genotyped twins for whom high-quality measures of EA, assessed at age 17 years, were available, and whose parents were also genotyped. Four key findings were observed. First, the EA PRS and EA VP_PRS were empirically independent, validating the virtual-parent design. Second, in this family-based design, children's own EA PRS significantly predicted their EA (β = 0.15...Continue Reading


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