How long you study may be in your genes

24 July 2018

The length of your formal education may be linked to your genes, according to researchers including Professor Peter Visscher from The University of Queensland (UQ). 

In one of the largest genetic studies ever completed, Professor Visscher from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Queensland Brain Institute and a team of international scientists studied the genes of more than one million people to discover new links between genetic variations and the length of a person’s formal education. 

Researchers identified 1,271 genetic variants associated with how much education someone may complete — far more than the 74 variants initially discovered in a smaller study two years ago. 

“Many of these genes are active in virtually all stages of brain development and in neural communication within the brain,” Professor Visscher said. 

Scientists found that the effect of the genetic variants were almost identical in men and women, lending support to the hypothesis that there are no genetically based sex differences in educational attainment.

Professor Visscher said that while the combined impact of the identified 1,271 genetic variants is small – explaining about 4% of the total variation in educational attainment across individuals – discovering the predictive power of genes is still a significant finding. 

“While it’s true that even those variants with the largest effects predict, on average, only about three more weeks of schooling in those who have those variants compared to those who don’t, the combined effects taken together are as influential as those of environmental and social factors, such as socioeconomic status,” he said. 

“As education is known to be an important predictor of many other life outcomes, such as income, occupation, health and longevity, it is important to enrich our understanding of the drivers of educational attainment through large-scale genetic studies such as these.” 

The study was conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium, which includes hundreds of scientists from across the globe.

Data was drawn from the UK Biobank Resource, the personal genomics company 23andMe, and the combined results of 69 other, smaller genetic studies. 

The research was published in Nature Genetics.

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Please note that Professor Visscher is currently overseas. To arrange email communication, please contact Bronwyn Adams on 0418 575 247 or