The crazy way our genes affect our income

Not satisfied with your salary? You can blame your genes it turns out. New research published in the academic journal, Nature Communication, attempts to lengthen the list of associations shared between high-income earners and genetic biomarkers.

In one of the largest analysis of its kind, the authors compared genetic material derived from a sample composed of 286, 301 unique individuals, demonstrating gray matter’s influence on talents and skills in curious terms.

The value of GWAS

The methodology utilized in the report is what’s referred to as a genome-wide association study.  By extracting DNA samples from subjects, experts are able to animate genetic variations in the service of a panoply of behavioral correlates and wellness factors. 

From a distance, the effectiveness of this approach invokes science fiction,  but closer inspection discloses a delicate and principled process. One that begins with saliva, oral mucosa and/or blood samples and ends with millions of tiny variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms. Ultimately, the authors of the new paper were able to link 149 varying genome types to different house income groups.

From the abstract: “Using a method to meta-analyze data from genetically-correlated traits, we identify an additional 120 income-associated loci. These loci show clear evidence of functionality, with transcriptional differences identified across multiple cortical tissues, and links to GABAergic and serotonergic neurotransmission.”

Loci are the fixed positions on a chromosome that house genetic markers. Upon initial review there appeared to be a strong correlation between genes that were profoundly expressed in the brain and higher income. These gene expressions are integral to the production of melatonin and serotonin and have been linked to intelligence and emotional regulation by several studies conducted in the past. 

Genetics variants in our brain tissue account for excellence in nine different branches of intellect, each first tabulated by famed developmental psychologist Howard Gardener back in 1983. They are as follows: 

Gardner’s imposing neurological stride was dogged by an omitted qualifier. Do genetics attribute to talent or skills? Depending on your interpretation, the new paper in the journal Nature Communication either inspires or dejects.

By the time you reach the paper’s conclusion, it becomes clear that the authors have disproved a categorical through line promoting genetic augurs for financial success. They did however compellingly prove that both income and education, share a highly similar genetic etiology. The authors report:

 “The phenotypes with the strongest genetic correlations with income are those that are cognitive (verbal numerical reasoning, childhood IQ and years of education) in nature. The magnitude of these genetic correlations might indicate the phenotypes that occur as potential mediators between molecular genetic inheritance and household income.”

A domino effect at best (worst)

While there might not be direct predictors for affluence, strictly speaking, there are certainly biomarkers that more or less determine the extent of our mental capabilities. And of course, the transitive effect that allures this distinction has been well established. 

As the author points out, individuals of exceptional academic talent often go on to attend prestigious universities, and in turn, will likely rub elbows with elites capable of realizing their merits.  Even without the impressions of well to do donors, higher degrees typically yield higher annual earnings. 

The most intriguing element the new report had to offer was a repudiation of its own thesis. The conclusion states that not only isn’t there a genetic ingredient for wealth,  variants only accounted for 2% of income disparities in the data set employed in the study. Biology at best governs aptitude. Of course, aptitude is a useless currency without proper application and resources.

We don’t know which tenancy our genetics fosters. Is it talent i.e that inherent thing that aligns attributes and opportunity or skills, the tempered instance that sees one sibling excel at math despite a shared aversion towards it. The lucky few that manage to achieve and sustain wealth usually have a mixture of both.