MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Emily Rauscher PhD
Department of Sociology
University of Kansas
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: A lot of previous research has identified genotypes that increase sensitivity to context. Much of this research, however, looks at particular aspects of health and is not able to address the methodological challenges of investigating gene-environment interactions. To gain a better sense of the potential outcomes that may be susceptible to gene-environment interactions, I examine financial standing in young adulthood. Testing this type of interaction is challenging because genotype and social environment are not randomly distributed throughout the population. Given this non-random distribution, unobserved confounders (such as parental behaviors, education, ethnicity, or social capital) could influence both parent and child financial standing.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: I compare same-sex full siblings to address these challenges. By studying gene-environment interactions within families, many potentially important aspects of environment (such as parental behaviors, education, and ethnicity) are held constant.
Across multiple measures of young adult financial standing (household income, individual earnings, and percent of the federal poverty level), I find that those with more copies of sensitive genotypes achieve lower economic outcomes than their sibling if their parents were low income. However, young adults with more of those same sensitive genotypes achieve higher economic outcomes than their same-sex sibling if their parents were high income. These results support the differential susceptibility hypothesis, but also suggest sensitive genotypes increase dependence on parental income. Thus, those with more sensitive genotypes may enjoy lower economic mobility.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: A key take away is that the same genotypes can increase or decrease young adult financial outcomes, depending on parental income. In addition, this study suggests that gene-environment interactions have implications beyond the health measures typically examined. Methodologically, addressing the non-random distribution of genes and environment can yield different results than naive estimates that do not address these challenges. Finally, sensitive genotypes are often described as “plastic.” However, results of this study suggest that genetic plasticity also decreases intergenerational economic mobility.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Future research could examine whether gene-environment interaction effects hold for other outcomes when addressing the non-random distribution of genes and environment. We should also work on other methods for addressing these methodological challenges.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: The results of this study suggest that we are wasting a lot of potential human capital. As a society, we should provide households with children more economic stability to allow children to reach their potential.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Emily Rauscher. Plastic and immobile: Unequal intergenerational mobility by genetic sensitivity score within sibling pairs. Social Science Research, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2017.02.005
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