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What effect do parents’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills have on their children’s education?

According to a recent study, parents' genes that are connected to both cognitive and non-cognitive talents have an impact on their child's educational performance.

A new study from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) demonstrates that parents’ genes associated with both cognitive and non-cognitive talents have an impact on their children’s educational outcomes.

The study, which was published in Nature Communications, looked at educational records and genetic information on more than 40k kids in the UK and the Netherlands. It discovered that even when genetic factors are not inherited, parental genes can still affect their children’s educational outcomes through the environment they create. The term “indirect genetic influence” describes this.

According to the researchers, future plans to address educational disparity may benefit from better knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the transmission of educational outcomes from parents to their children.

In the context of education, the term “non-cognitive skills” is used to refer to traits like tenacity, social skills, and academic drive. Cognitive talents include abilities like verbal IQ and working memory. How much children’s non-cognitive skills can affect their own educational outcomes has been the subject of prior studies.

The importance of parents’ non-cognitive talents has, however, received scant attention in the literature. Additionally, genetic inheritance has not typically been taken into consideration in studies on how parents influence their children’s schooling, which is necessary to determine the extent to which parents’ genes actually influence children through their surroundings.

To determine the environmental influences of parents’ genes on their children’s educational performance, the researchers analysed educational outcomes from three data sets: the UK Biobank, the UK Twins Early Development Study, and the Netherlands Twins Register.
The educational outcomes of the participating children comprised grades from teachers and results from standardised tests, as well as their overall length of attendance in school.

Researchers proved that parental genes for both cognitive and non-cognitive abilities that are not passed on to their offspring still have an impact on their child’s academic success. Even if a parent’s genetic disposition is not inherited, it can nevertheless be passed on to their offspring since they are more likely to foster an atmosphere where perseverance can thrive.

“Classic ‘parental nurture’ could be important – for example, genes influence parents to teach their child to stay focussed and motivated. But broader mechanisms are also key – for example, genetic predispositions play a role in a parent’s decision to move to a certain neighbourhood, which in turn influences the child’s education,” said Dr Rosa Cheesman.

Perline Demange, the study’s first author from Vrije Universiteit said, “We didn’t only use one genetic design in one dataset. The fact that our findings were broadly corroborated across the different methods and across studies gives us confidence to say that parental environment associated with cognitive and non-cognitive skills matter for their children’s educational success. “Education is highly predictive of both social mobility and health over the course of someone’s life. By understanding the conditions for success, we can help to inform policy to give future generations the best possible start.”

What effect do parents’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills have on their children’s education?

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