Comparing the genetic architecture of childhood behavioral problems across socioeconomic strata in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom

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Abstract

Socioeconomic status (SES) affects the development of childhood behavioral problems. It has been frequently observed that children from low SES background tend to show more behavioral problems. There also is some evidence that SES has a moderating effect on the causes of individual differences in childhood behavioral problems, with lower heritability estimates and a stronger contribution of environmental factors in low SES groups. The aim of the present study was to examine whether the genetic architecture of childhood behavioral problems suggests the presence of protective and/or harmful effects across socioeconomic strata, in two countries with different levels of socioeconomic disparity: the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. We analyzed data from 7-year-old twins from the Netherlands Twin Register (N = 24,112 twins) and the Twins Early Development Study (N = 19,644 twins). The results revealed a nonlinear moderation effect of SES on the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to individual differences in childhood behavioral problems. The heritability was higher, the contribution of the shared environment was lower, and the contribution of the nonshared environment was higher, for children from high SES families, compared to children from low or medium SES families. The pattern was similar for Dutch and UK families. We discuss the importance of these findings for prevention and intervention goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-362
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean child & adolescent psychiatry
Volume29
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

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