Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 25 No. 4 (Fall 2011)


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Molecular Genetics and Economics

Article Citation

Beauchamp, Jonathan P., David Cesarini, Magnus Johannesson, Matthijs J. H. M. van der Loos, Philipp D. Koellinger, Patrick J. F. Groenen, James H. Fowler, J. Niels Rosenquist, A. Roy Thurik, and Nicholas A. Christakis. 2011. "Molecular Genetics and Economics." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(4): 57-82.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.4.57


The costs of comprehensively genotyping human subjects have fallen to the point where major funding bodies, even in the social sciences, are beginning to incorporate genetic and biological markers into major social surveys. How, if at all, should economists use and combine molecular genetic and economic data from these surveys? What challenges arise when analyzing genetically informative data? To illustrate, we present results from a "genome-wide association study" of educational attainment. We use a sample of 7,500 individuals from the Framingham Heart Study; our dataset contains over 360,000 genetic markers per person. We get some initially promising results linking genetic markers to educational attainment, but these fail to replicate in a second large sample of 9,500 people from the Rotterdam Study. Unfortunately such failure is typical in molecular genetic studies of this type, so the example is also cautionary. We discuss a number of methodological challenges that face researchers who use molecular genetics to reliably identify genetic associates of economic traits. Our overall assessment is cautiously optimistic: this new data source has potential in economics. But researchers and consumers of the genoeconomic literature should be wary of the pitfalls, most notably the difficulty of doing reliable inference when faced with multiple hypothesis problems on a scale never before encountered in social science.

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Beauchamp, Jonathan P.
Cesarini, David (New York University )
Johannesson, Magnus (Stockholm School of Economics)
van der Loos, Matthijs J. H. M. (Erasmus School of Economics)
Koellinger, Philipp D. (Erasmus School of Economics)
Groenen, Patrick J. F. (Erasmus School of Economics)
Fowler, James H. (University of California)
Rosenquist, J. Niels (Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Institute for Quantitative Social Science )
Thurik, A. Roy (Erasmus School of Economics)
Christakis, Nicholas A. (Harvard Medical School)

JEL Classifications

A12: Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
C83: Survey Methods; Sampling Methods


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