Press Room Articles Human Evolution May Be Lowering Academic Achievement

Human Evolution May Be Lowering Academic Achievement

Bridget M. Kuehn; January 27, 2017

According to an Icelandic study that was published online* on January 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, delayed childbearing among populations who carry genes linked with higher educational attainment may be causing these traits to become less common.

Studies have found that genetics may account for as much as 40% of a person’s educational attainment, explains lead author Dr Augustine Kong PhD, Iceland. Genome-wide association studies have revealed that some combinations of gene variations are more likely to lead to an increased interest in pursuing higher education. However, this genetic advantage comes with an evolutionary cost; studies have shown that individuals who stay in school longer, have fewer children. (Rindfuss RR et al. Demography. 1996;33:277-290).

Dr. Kong and colleagues used a genealogical database that contains every Icelander born since 1910. After generating a score to determine how many education-attainment genes the genotyped population had, they analyzed whether higher scores correlated with lower fertility, and reached the conclusion that individuals with higher scores tend to have fewer children, mainly because they give birth later in life. This correlation existed even when adjusted for actual educational attainment, proving that the effect couldn’t be solely attributed to delaying childbearing while attending school. Leading them to the speculation that the score may also correlate with genetic traits that predispose to “long-term planning and delayed gratification.” The authors emphasize that in evolutionary terms these results represent “the blink of an eye”, but a persisting trend over centuries could have a profound impact.

http://www.pnas.org/content/114/5/E727.abstract