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More than nature and nurture, indirect genetic effects on children’s academic achievement are consequences of dynastic social processes


Families transmit genes and environments across generations. When parents’ genetics affect their children’s environments, these two modes of inheritance can produce an ‘indirect genetic effect’. Such indirect genetic effects may account for up to half of the estimated genetic variance in educational attainment. Here we tested if indirect genetic effects reflect within-nuclear-family transmission (‘genetic nurture’) or instead a multi-generational process of social stratification (‘dynastic effects’). We analysed indirect genetic effects on children’s academic achievement in their fifth to ninth years of schooling in N = 37,117 parent–offspring trios in the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). We used pairs of genetically related families (parents were siblings, children were cousins; N = 10,913) to distinguish within-nuclear-family genetic-nurture effects from dynastic effects shared by cousins in different nuclear families. We found that indirect genetic effects on children’s academic achievement cannot be explained by processes that operate exclusively within the nuclear family.

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Fig. 1: Results from four models of academic achievement using three definitions of polygenic scores.

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Data availability

The data analysed in the study are administrative data maintained by Statistics Norway and genotype data from MoBa Genetics. The data are not publicly available, but available to researchers upon application to the respective data owners. Such applications require approval by the appropriate ethics/research data access authorities. Access to administrative data from Statistics Norway can be applied for at Statistics Norway ( and access to MoBa Genetics can be applied for at the Norwegian Public Health Institute ( In Norway, the appropriate ethics and research data boards are the Regional Committee on Medical Research Ethics (REK) or SIKT. The consent given by the MoBa participants does not open for storage of data on an individual level in repositories or journals.

Code availability

No custom computer code was used in the study. The software used in the data preparation and analysis were R 4.0, LDpred2 and plink 1.9. R scripts for data preparation and analysis are available at


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We thank the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) for generating high-quality genomic data. This research is part of the HARVEST collaboration, supported by the Research Council of Norway (#229624). We also thank the NORMENT Centre for providing genotype data, funded by the Research Council of Norway (#223273), South East Norway Health Authority and KG Jebsen Stiftelsen. We further thank the Center for Diabetes Research, the University of Bergen for providing genotype data and performing quality control and imputation of the data funded by the ERC AdG project SELECTionPREDISPOSED, Stiftelsen Kristian Gerhard Jebsen, Trond Mohn Foundation, the Research Council of Norway, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the University of Bergen and the Western Norway health authorities (Helse Vest) The Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study is supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services and the Ministry of Education and Research. We are grateful to all the participating families in Norway who take part in this on-going cohort study. M.G.N. is supported by ZonMW grants 849200011 and 531003014 from The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, a VENI grant awarded by NWO (VI.Veni.191 G.030), and NIH grant R01MH120219. K.P.H. is supported by grant R01HD092548 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and by NICHD grant P2CHD042849 awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin. D.W.B. was supported by US National Institute on Aging grants R01AG066887, R01AG073402, Russell Sage Foundation BioSS Grant 1810-08987, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. E.v.B. is supported by ZonMw grant 531003014 and NWO Gravitation grant 024.001.003. T.H.L. and T.B. are supported by Horizon2020 ERC Consolidator grant #818420 OPENFLUX. M.G.N., D.W.B., K.P.H. and E.v.B. are all past or present Jacobs Foundation Research Fellows. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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M.G.N., D.W.B., K.P.H. and T.H.L. designed the study. T.H.L. prepared data. M.G.N. and T.H.L. analyzed data. M.G.N., D.W.B., K.P.H., T.B., O.A.A., E.Y., E.v.B. and T.H.L. interpreted results. M.G.N., D.W.B., K.P.H. and T.H.L. wrote the paper. All authors provided critical comments and feedback on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Torkild H. Lyngstad.

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Nature Human Behaviour thanks Andrea Allegrini, Qiongshi Lu, Hilary C. Martin and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary power analysis and discussion, FAQ, Tables 1–5 and Figs. 1–11.

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Nivard, M.G., Belsky, D.W., Harden, K.P. et al. More than nature and nurture, indirect genetic effects on children’s academic achievement are consequences of dynastic social processes. Nat Hum Behav 8, 771–778 (2024).

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