How Educational Attainment May Be Influenced By Genetics

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How Educational Attainment May Be Influenced By Genetics

Date of Content: February 13, 2024
Written by: Harvey Talento
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD


In today’s world, a piece of paper can unlock a world of opportunity. Often, a single piece of paper, such as a degree certificate represents educational attainment or the highest level of education someone has completed. But why is educational attainment so important, and what impact does it have on individuals and society?

What is Educational Attainment?

Educational attainment refers to the highest level of formal education an individual has completed, typically resulting in a diploma, certificate, or degree achieved from an accredited institution. 

Education levels vary by country, commonly categorized as below upper secondary, upper secondary, post-secondary non-tertiary, and tertiary.

Certificates in these categories act as standardized indicators of an individual’s educational journey, impacting employment, income, and overall well-being.

Educational Attainment

Importance of Educational Attainment

Educational attainment is a key player in personal and societal advancement. It directly affects opportunities, income, and overall quality of life.

Individual Level

  • Earning potential: There is a strong correlation between educational attainment and income. Higher levels of education generally lead to higher-paying jobs, allowing individuals to achieve financial security and improve their quality of life.
  • Career opportunities: A higher degree often opens doors to a wider range of career options. It equips individuals with specialized skills and knowledge that employers demand, making them more competitive in the job market.
  • Personal development: Education is not just about acquiring skills but personal growth. It fosters critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and communication skills, all valuable assets in navigating life’s challenges.

Societal Level

  • Economic growth: A well-educated workforce is crucial for a nation’s economic prosperity. Individuals with higher levels of education tend to be more innovative and productive, contributing to economic development and technological advancement.
  • Social mobility: Education is a powerful tool for breaking the cycle of poverty and promoting social mobility. By allowing individuals to improve their educational attainment, societies can create a fairer and more equitable environment.
  • Civic engagement: Educated individuals are more likely to be engaged in civic life, participating in voting, volunteering, and contributing to their communities. This active participation strengthens democratic values and fosters a sense of shared responsibility.

It’s important to remember that educational attainment is not the sole measure of an individual’s worth or potential. However, it undeniably plays a significant role in shaping life trajectories and contributing to a thriving society.

How Genetics May Influence Educational Attainment

Genetic research has provided unprecedented insights into the factors influencing educational attainment. A 2019 study employed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) approach, analyzing approximately 10 million genetic variants among over a million participants The findings shed light on the intricate and complex relationship between genetics and educational attainment.

Genomic Landscape and Quantifying Impact

In this primary Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS), researchers identified 1,271 significant independent genetic variations, or SNPs, intricately linked to educational attainment highlighting the highly polygenic nature of this trait Each genetic variant identified was found to correlate with an average of 1.7 additional weeks of schooling, providing valuable insights into the quantifiable impact of genetics on educational outcomes.

Important note: LifeDNA enlists genes PLEKHN1, AGRN, GNB1, PLCH2, and HES5, among many others, as the top SNPs influencing educational attainment.

Family Dynamics

Within-family analyses in sibling cohorts revealed that genetic variations significantly shape educational outcomes within familial contexts, although effect sizes within families were somewhat reduced compared to the broader GWAS. 

Heterogeneity Across Educational Environments

The same study explored the heterogeneity of genetic effects across cohorts, revealing that specific genetic factors influencing educational attainment may vary across different educational environments. This highlighted the nuanced nature of genetic contributions to educational outcomes, acknowledging the diversity in the impact of genetic variations.

Gender-Neutral Genetic Correlation

Analyzing X-chromosome SNPs, the study identified a close genetic correlation between males and females, suggesting a shared genetic basis for educational attainment without significant gender differences. This insight clarifies the broad genetic underpinnings of educational achievements, emphasizing a gender-neutral perspective.

Genetic insights into educational attainment not only reveal the impact of individual SNPs but also emphasize the complex interplay between genetics, environment, and cognitive outcomes. Understanding these insights allows for a more nuanced comprehension of the factors influencing educational achievements.

Non-Genetic Factors Influencing Educational Attainment

A complex interplay of various factors influences educational attainment. These factors can be broadly categorized into four main areas:

Individual factors

  • Cognitive abilities: While not the sole determinant, cognitive abilities such as intelligence, memory, and learning styles can play a role in academic performance.
  • Motivation and engagement: A student’s intrinsic motivation, their desire to learn and achieve, significantly impacts their educational journey.
  • Learning habits and self-regulation skills: Effective study habits, time management skills, and managing distractions positively influence academic success.
  • Physical and mental health: Overall well-being, including healthy sleep patterns and mental health, can significantly impact learning and concentration.

Family Factors

  • Socioeconomic status (SES): Students from families with higher SES often have access to better educational resources, such as quality schooling, educational materials, and technology, which can contribute to higher attainment.
  • Parental education level: Studies show a correlation between parents’ and children’s educational attainment. Parents with higher education levels are often more likely to value education and provide their children with support and guidance.
  • Family environment: A supportive and stimulating home environment that encourages learning and provides emotional support can significantly benefit a child’s educational journey.

School Factors

  • School quality: Factors like qualified teachers, a challenging curriculum, access to resources, a safe and positive learning environment, and smaller class sizes can positively impact student learning outcomes.
  • Teacher-student relationships: Positive and supportive relationships between teachers and students can enhance motivation, engagement, and academic performance.
  • School leadership and policies: Effective school leadership, clear and consistent policies, and focus on academic achievement can contribute to a positive learning environment.

Community and Societal Factors

  • Peer group influence: The influence of peers can significantly impact a student’s academic motivation, study habits, and educational choices.
  • Community resources: Access to resources outside of school, such as libraries, after-school programs, and cultural enrichment opportunities, can support learning and development.
  • Social and economic inequalities: Systemic inequalities based on factors like race, ethnicity, and gender can create barriers to educational opportunities and contribute to achievement gaps.


It’s important to remember that these factors are interconnected and can either positively or negatively impact educational attainment. Addressing the various factors influencing educational attainment requires a multi-faceted approach involving individuals, families, schools, and communities working together to create an equitable and supportive learning environment.

Strategies to Achieve Higher Educational Attainment

Individual Empowerment

Encouraging goal-oriented learning, promoting effective time management, and employing personalized teaching methods contribute to increased motivation and a positive educational experience.

Family Involvement

Active family participation is key to better educational outcomes. Providing easy access to educational resources, technology, tutoring services, and financial support initiatives like scholarships makes education more accessible.

School-Centric Measures

Schools are central to shaping educational experiences. Ensuring quality education, qualified teachers, a challenging curriculum, and mentorship programs fosters positive teacher-student relationships and community integration, promoting motivation and academic success.

Societal Interventions

Broader societal factors impact educational attainment. Implementing policies addressing systemic inequalities, enhancing access to community resources, and introducing comprehensive career guidance programs contribute to equitable opportunities and informed decision-making.

Integrating these strategies across individual, family, school, and societal levels forms a comprehensive approach to enhancing educational attainment.

About the LifeDNA Personality and Cognition Report

Discover the secrets for your educational journey with the LifeDNA Personality & Cognition Report. This personalized analysis empowers you to make informed decisions about your education, leveraging genetic insights to optimize your academic path. 

Embrace the opportunity for self-discovery and navigate your educational journey with clarity and empowerment. Get the LifeDNA Personality & Cognition report today!


  • Educational attainment, reflecting an individual’s highest completed formal education, acts as a key indicator influencing employment, income, and overall well-being.
  • Individually, it shapes earning potential, career opportunities, and personal development. Societally, it contributes to economic growth, social mobility, and civic engagement.
  • Genetic insights from a genome-wide study reveal 1,271 significant SNPs impacting the likelihood of additional weeks of schooling. Family dynamics, environmental variations, and gender-neutral genetic correlations highlight nuanced genetic and non-genetic contributions.
  • Other significant factors span individual, family, school, and societal realms. Addressing cognitive abilities, motivation, socioeconomic status, and more requires a holistic approach to equitable learning environments.
  • Incorporating strategies across individual, family, school, and societal levels forms a comprehensive approach to enhancing educational attainment.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

Our reports and suggestions do not diagnose or treat any health conditions or provide any medical advice. Consult with a healthcare professional before making any major lifestyle changes or if you have any other concerns about your results.