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Why are education, socioeconomic position and intelligence genetically correlated?

By Tim T. Morris, Neil M Davies, Gibran Hemani, George Davey Smith

Posted 07 May 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/630426

Genetic associations and correlations are perceived as confirmation that genotype influences one or more phenotypes respectively. However, genetic correlations can arise from non-biological or indirect mechanisms including population stratification, dynastic effects, and assortative mating. In this paper, we outline these mechanisms and demonstrate available tools and analytic methods that can be used to assess their presence in estimates of genetic correlations and genetic associations. Using educational attainment and parental socioeconomic position data as an exemplar, we demonstrate that both heritability and genetic correlation estimates may be inflated by these indirect mechanisms. The results highlight the limitations of between-individual estimates obtained from samples of unrelated individuals and the potential value of family-based studies. Use of the highlighted tools in combination with within-sibling or mother-father-offspring trio data may offer researchers greater opportunity to explore the underlying mechanisms behind genetic associations and correlations and identify the underlying causes of estimate inflation.

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