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Alcohol consumption and mate choice in UK Biobank: comparing observational and Mendelian randomization estimates

By Laurence J Howe, Daniel J Lawson, Neil M Davies, Beate Pourcain, Sarah J Lewis, George Davey Smith, Gibran Hemani

Posted 14 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/418269 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12424-x)

Alcohol use is correlated within spouse-pairs, but it is difficult to disentangle the effects of alcohol consumption on mate-selection from social factors or cohabitation leading to spouses becoming more similar over time. We hypothesised that genetic variants related to alcohol consumption may, via their effect on alcohol behaviour, influence mate selection. Therefore, in a sample of over 47,000 spouse-pairs in the UK Biobank we utilised a well-characterised alcohol related variant, rs1229984 in ADH1B , as a genetic proxy for alcohol use. We compared the phenotypic concordance between spouses for self-reported alcohol use with the association between an individual’s self-reported alcohol use and their partner’s rs1229984 genotype using Mendelian randomization. This was followed up by an exploration of the spousal genotypic concordance for the variant and an analysis determining if relationship length may be related to spousal alcohol behaviour similarities. We found strong evidence that both an individual’s self-reported alcohol consumption and rs1229984 genotype are associated with their partner’s self-reported alcohol use. The Mendelian randomization analysis found that each unit increase in an individual’s weekly alcohol consumption increased their partner’s alcohol consumption by 0.26 units (95% C.I. 0.15, 0.38; P=1.10×10-5). Furthermore, the rs1229984 genotype was concordant within spouse-pairs, suggesting that some spousal concordance for alcohol consumption existed prior to cohabitation. Although the SNP is strongly associated with ancestry, our results suggest that this concordance is unlikely to be explained by population stratification. Overall, our findings suggest that alcohol behaviour directly influences mate selection.

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