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The Genetic and Environmental Influences on Social Mobility
Yilan Xu
Fellow 2017-18

Economic and sociology literature has shown strong persistence in wealth, income, and other socioeconomic status (SES) across generations and over one’s lifetime, leading to social immobility. Parental SES can be transmitted to their children and persist over children’s lifetime through abilities, intelligence, temperaments, as well as the family, neighborhood, and school environments. Some of these effects are genetic, while others are environmental.

In this study, Professor Xu will empirically explore the roles of genes, environments, and their interactions in explaining social mobility, using twins and siblings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The knowledge derived from this research will be significant because social immobility has led to social stratification, resulting in persistent disparities in economic opportunities and individual welfare. The relative importance of genetic and environmental influences discovered in this study will inform the mix of policy interventions that could be used to enhance social and economic mobility. Professor Xu’s innovation is to apply the genetic method used in psychology to an economic and policy issue. Specifically, she will partition the genetic and environmental influences using twins and siblings and infer the Gene × Environment interactions through longitudinal observations. The research method developed in this project could be used to understand the genetic and environmental mechanisms of many other socioeconomic phenomena.