Genetic and environmental variation in educational attainment: an individual-based analysis of 28 twin cohorts

Karri Silventoinen*, Aline Jelenkovic, Reijo Sund, Antti Latvala, Chika Honda, Fujio Inui, Rie Tomizawa, Mikio Watanabe, Norio Sakai, Esther Rebato, Andreas Busjahn, Jessica Tyler, John L. Hopper, Juan R. Ordoñana, Juan F. Sánchez-Romera, Lucia Colodro-Conde, Lucas Calais-Ferreira, Vinicius C. Oliveira, Paulo H. Ferreira, Emanuela MeddaLorenza Nisticò, Virgilia Toccaceli, Catherine A. Derom, Robert F. Vlietinck, Ruth J.F. Loos, Sisira H. Siribaddana, Matthew Hotopf, Athula Sumathipala, Fruhling Rijsdijk, Glen E. Duncan, Dedra Buchwald, Per Tynelius, Finn Rasmussen, Qihua Tan, Dongfeng Zhang, Zengchang Pang, Patrik K.E. Magnusson, Nancy L. Pedersen, Anna K. Dahl Aslan, Amie E. Hwang, Thomas M. Mack, Robert F. Krueger, Matt McGue, Shandell Pahlen, Ingunn Brandt, Thomas S. Nilsen, Jennifer R. Harris, Nicholas G. Martin, Sarah E. Medland, Grant W. Montgomery, Gonneke Willemsen, Meike Bartels, Catharina E.M. van Beijsterveldt, Carol E. Franz, William S. Kremen, Michael J. Lyons, Judy L. Silberg, Hermine H. Maes, Christian Kandler, Tracy L. Nelson, Keith E. Whitfield, Robin P. Corley, Brooke M. Huibregtse, Margaret Gatz, David A. Butler, Adam D. Tarnoki, David L. Tarnoki, Hang A. Park, Jooyeon Lee, Soo Ji Lee, Joohon Sung, Yoshie Yokoyama, Thorkild I.A. Sørensen, Dorret I. Boomsma, Jaakko Kaprio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We investigated the heritability of educational attainment and how it differed between birth cohorts and cultural–geographic regions. A classical twin design was applied to pooled data from 28 cohorts representing 16 countries and including 193,518 twins with information on educational attainment at 25 years of age or older. Genetic factors explained the major part of individual differences in educational attainment (heritability: a2 = 0.43; 0.41–0.44), but also environmental variation shared by co-twins was substantial (c2 = 0.31; 0.30–0.33). The proportions of educational variation explained by genetic and shared environmental factors did not differ between Europe, North America and Australia, and East Asia. When restricted to twins 30 years or older to confirm finalized education, the heritability was higher in the older cohorts born in 1900–1949 (a2 = 0.44; 0.41–0.46) than in the later cohorts born in 1950–1989 (a2 = 0.38; 0.36–0.40), with a corresponding lower influence of common environmental factors (c2 = 0.31; 0.29–0.33 and c2 = 0.34; 0.32–0.36, respectively). In conclusion, both genetic and environmental factors shared by co-twins have an important influence on individual differences in educational attainment. The effect of genetic factors on educational attainment has decreased from the cohorts born before to those born after the 1950s.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12681
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2020


This study was conducted within the CODATwins project. We thank Wendy Cozen, University of Southern California, for sharing data with us. Funding for collaborators: Netherlands Twin Register acknowledges the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and MagW/ZonMW grants 904-61-090, 985-10-002, 912-10-020, 904-61-193,480-04-004, 463-06-001, 451-04-034, 400-05-717, Addiction-31160008, Mid-delgroot-911-09-032, Spinozapremie 56-464-14192; VU University’s Institute for Health and Care Research (EMGO+); the European Research Council (ERC - 230374), the Avera Institute, Sioux Falls, South Dakota (USA). Data collection and analyses in Finnish twin cohorts have been supported by ENGAGE – European Network for Genetic and Genomic Epidemiology, FP7-HEALTH-F4-2007, Grant Agreement Number 201413, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Grants AA-12502, AA-00145, and AA-09203 to R J Rose, the Academy of Finland Center of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics (Grant Numbers: 213506, 129680), and the Academy of Finland (Grants 100499, 205585, 118555, 141054, 265240, 263278 and 264146 to J Kaprio). Since its origin the East Flanders Prospective Survey has been partly supported by grants from the Fund of Scientific Research, Flanders and Twins, a non-profit Association for Scientific Research in Multiple Births (Belgium). Anthropometric measurements of the Hungarian twins were supported by Medexpert Ltd., Budapest, Hungary. The Murcia Twin Registry is supported by Fundación Séneca, Regional Agency for Science and Technology, Murcia, Spain (08633/ PHCS/08, 15302/PHCS/10 & 19479/PI/14) and Ministry of Science and Innovation, Spain (PSI2009-11560 & PSI2014-56680-R). K Silventoinen is supported by Osaka University’s International Joint Research Promotion Program. We acknowledge The Swedish Twin Registry for access to data. The Swedish Twin Registry is managed by Karolinska Institutet and receives funding through the Swedish Research Council under the grant no 2017-00641. This research was facilitated through access to Twins Research Australia, a national resource supported by a Centre of Research Excellence Grant (ID: 1079102), from the National Health and Medical Research Council. California Twin Program was supported by The California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (7RT-0134H, 8RT-0107H, 6RT-0354H) and the National Institutes of Health (1R01ESO15150-01). The Carolina African American Twin Study of Aging (CAATSA) was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (grant 1RO1-AG13662-01A2) to K. E. Whitfield. Colorado Twin Registry is funded by NIDA funded center grant DA011015, & Longititudinal Twin Study HD10333; Author Huibregtse is supported by 5T32DA017637 and 5T32AG052371. Washington State Twin Registry (formerly the University of Washington Twin Registry) was supported in part by grant NIH RC2 HL103416 (D. Buchwald, PI). Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging was supported by National Institute of Health grants NIA R01 AG018384, R01 AG018386, R01 AG022381, and R01 AG022982, and, in part, with resources of the VA San Diego Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health. The Cooperative Studies Program of the Office of Research & Development of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has provided financial support for the development and maintenance of the Vietnam Era Twin (VET) Registry. The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIA/NIH, or the VA. The NAS-NRC Twin Registry acknowledges financial support from the National Institutes of Health grant number R21 AG039572. Korean Twin-Family Register was supported by the Global Research Network Program of the National Research Foundation (NRF 2011-220-E00006). Osaka University Aged Twin Registry is supported by grants from JSPS KAKENHI JP (23593419, 24792601, 26671010, 24590695, 26293128, 16K15385, 16K15978, 16K15989, 16H03261).

FundersFunder number
Academy of Finland Center of Excellence in Complex Disease Genetics213506, 129680
Avera Institute
Fund of Scientific Research, Flanders and Twins
Medexpert Ltd.
Ministry of Science and Innovation, SpainPSI2009-11560, PSI2014-56680-R
National Institute of Health
National Research Foundation
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Regional Agency for Science and Technology, Murcia, Spain15302/PHCS/10, 08633/ PHCS/08, 19479/PI/14
VU University’s Institute for Health and Care Research
National Institutes of Health1R01ESO15150-01, RC2 HL103416
National Institute on Drug Abuse5T32DA017637, 5T32AG052371, DA011015, HD10333
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and AlcoholismAA-00145, AA-09203, AA-12502
National Institute on AgingR01 AG022381, 1RO1-AG13662-01A2, R01 AG018384, R01 AG022982, R01 AG018386
National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesR01ES015150
U.S. Department of Veterans AffairsR21 AG039572
Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program6RT-0354H, 8RT-0107H
Office of Research and Development
Fundación Séneca
European Research CouncilERC - 230374
National Health and Medical Research Council
National Research Foundation2011-220-E00006
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science16K15978, 16K15989, 24590695, 16H03261, 16K15385, 26293128, 23593419, 26671010, 24792601
Academy of Finland141054, 264146, 205585, 118555, 263278, 265240, 100499
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek463-06-001, 904-61-090, 904-61-193,480-04-004, 400-05-717, 451-04-034, 985-10-002, 56-464-14192, 912-10-020
Karolinska Institutet
Osaka University
Vetenskapsrådet2017-00641, 1079102

    Cohort Studies

    • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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