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

Cohort Studies

  • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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