Do Your Genes Determine Your Social Status?

To a striking extent, your overall life chances can be predicted not just from your parents’ status but also from your great-great-great-grandparents’…The fortunes of high-status families inexorably fall, and those of low-status families rise, toward the average — what social scientists call “regression to the mean” — but the process can take 10 to 15 generations (300 to 450 years), much longer than most social scientists have estimated in the past…

Does this imply that individuals have no control over their life outcomes? No. In modern meritocratic societies, success still depends on individual effort. Our findings suggest, however, that the compulsion to strive, the talent to prosper and the ability to overcome failure are strongly inherited. We can’t know for certain what the mechanism of that inheritance is, though we know that genetics plays a surprisingly strong role. Alternative explanations that are in vogue — cultural traits, family economic resources, social networks — don’t hold up to scrutiny…

The notion of genetic transmission of “social competence” — some mysterious mix of drive and ability — may unsettle us. But studies of adoption, in some ways the most dramatic of social interventions, support this view. A number of studies of adopted children in the United States and Nordic countries show convincingly that their life chances are more strongly predicted from their biological parents than their adoptive families. In America, for example, the I.Q. of adopted children correlates with their adoptive parents’ when they are young, but the correlation is close to zero by adulthood. There is a low correlation between the incomes and educational attainment of adopted children and those of their adoptive parents.

These studies, along with studies of correlations across various types of siblings (identical twins, fraternal twins, half siblings) suggest that genetics is the main carrier of social status.

Full piece worth reading.

Comments (15)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Lucas B says:

    Does this means that Royal blood is actually better? All these years that I denied my blue blood heritage seem to have been gone to waste.

  2. Calvin R says:

    Genetics determine social status. That thought has caused issues throughout history. It is interesting to see that science is proving this idea. Should we be concerned that some crazy person starts using these results to support their ideals?

  3. Thomas P says:

    I think that the most interesting point of this study is the one about adoption. If living with a “better suited family” doesn’t help the life chances of the child, this means that the idea of adoption is not as impactful as one might believe. If life chances are not improving, why subject these children through this life changing process?

    • Andrew says:

      Well it probably is not ideal to have children be orphans all their lives. While they say life chances are more strongly predicted by biological parents, I am sure adopted kids are better off than if they were not.

  4. Matthew says:

    Genes contribute to social status in as much as opportunities tend to open up for recognizable names or connections through the family.

    • Fran E says:

      Networking gives you opportunities, especially in the modern world. Being raised in a high status family gets you the connections you need. Chances of success improve with networks, and if networks are available for those in the top, then those in the top will get the opportunities.

      • Jay says:

        So all lower and middle class people need LinkedIn accounts to improve chances of success through networking.

  5. Miguel A says:

    If we live in “modern meritocracies” why haven’t we overcame this problem yet? If it is actually a meritocratic system your social background shouldn’t matter or be determinant in your life. But, we are not in a meritocracy; we are still in a system in which those who are in the top receive the advantages. Your life chances depend on the opportunities that you are presented; it seems as if these opportunities are not reaching the lower classes.

    • Jay says:

      And people whose great great grandparents had advantageous life choices probably tend to have good life choices as well. Each generation has a tendency to follow in the previous ones footsteps.

      • Walter says:

        The internet has opened up much more possibilities for people as well. As more and more people have information to find better opportunities or avenues, determinants of genes on social status would diminish.

    • Barnes says:

      As far as I know, these opportunities can reach the lower classes even though the society is confronting a significant inequality.

  6. Pakoo says:

    Actually I have been curious about this issue for a long time.

  7. Pakoo says:

    However, latest research by Prof. Xie from Univ. of Mich. proved that social mobility in the U.S. is not ossified, which means that success is not relied on talent but on hard work.