Abstract

The aetiology of individual differences in educational attainment and occupational status includes genetic as well as environmental factors1,2,3,4,5 and can change as societies change3,6,7. The extent of genetic influence on these social outcomes can be viewed as an index of success in achieving meritocratic values of equality of opportunity by rewarding talent and hard work, which are to a large extent influenced by genetic factors, rather than rewarding environmentally driven privilege. To the extent that the end of the Soviet Union and the independence of Estonia led to an increase in meritocratic selection of individuals in education and occupation, genetic influence should be higher in the post-Soviet era than in the Soviet era. Here we confirmed this hypothesis: DNA differences (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) explained twice as much variance in educational attainment and occupational status in the post-Soviet era compared with the Soviet era in both polygenic score analyses and single-nucleotide polymorphism heritability analyses of 12,500 Estonians. Our results demonstrate a change in the extent of genetic influence in the same population following a massive and abrupt social change—in this case, the shift from a communist to a capitalist society.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the participants in the Estonian Genome Centre University of Tartu. R.P. is supported by the UK Medical Research Council (MR/M021475/1 and previously G0901245), with additional support from the US National Institutes of Health (HD044454 and HD059215). K.R., E.K. and S.S. are supported by a Medical Research Council studentship. R.P. is supported by a Medical Research Council Research Professorship award (G19/2) and a European Research Council Advanced Investigator award (295366). J.R.I.C. is funded by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. T.E. and A.M. were supported by grants Est.RC IUT 20-60 (A.M.) and PUT-1660 (T.E) and by CoEx for Genomics and Translational Medicine (GENTRANSMED). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Affiliations

  1. Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK

    • Kaili Rimfeld
    • , Eva Krapohl
    • , Jonathan R. I. Coleman
    • , Saskia Selzam
    •  & Robert Plomin
  2. Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Maciej Trzaskowski
  3. National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre, South London and Maudsley National Health Service Trust, London, UK

    • Jonathan R. I. Coleman
  4. Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

    • Philip S. Dale
  5. Estonian Genome Centre, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia

    • Tonu Esko
    •  & Andres Metspalu

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Contributions

K.R. and R.P. conceived and designed the experiments. K.R., M.T., E.K. and J.R.I.C. analysed the data. K.R., M.T., E.K., T.E., A.M. and R.P. wrote the paper. All authors approved the final draft of the paper.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Kaili Rimfeld.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0332-5