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Study finds the relationship between genes and earnings increased after 1980

Someone sent me a recent NBER working paper by Nicholas W. Papageorge and Kevin Thom on polygenic scores and educational attainment/earnings. Most pertinent to my theoretical interests is that the link between genes and income appears to increase over recent decades.

In my lectures on the politics of media (really about the politics of technology more generally), I dedicate a session to the topic of skill-biased technical change (SBTC). While the econometrics and specific interpretations are debated, there is a literature in Economics that suggests certain technological innovations (i.e. computing) increase the earnings of the highly skilled relative to the less skilled. I would sometimes wonder to what degree "skills," which sound like primarily acquired things, in fact reflect heritable traits. Or if one could separate these out...

Papageorge and Thom provide one of the first efforts to study this question explicitly. "This is the first study to estimate the returns to genetic factors associated with education using micro genetic data and disaggregated measures of earnings and job tasks across cohorts."

Here is their summary of the genetic effect, conditional on time period:

The returns to these genetic endowments appear to rise over time, coinciding with the rise in income inequality after 1980. Accounting for degree and years of schooling, a one standard deviation increase in the score is associated with a 4.5 percent increase in earnings after 1980. These results are consistent with recent literature on income inequality
showing not only an increase in the college premium, but also a rise in the residual wage variance within educational groups (Lemieux, 2006). We also find a positive association between the score and the kinds of non-routine job tasks that benefited from computerization and the development of more advanced information technologies (Autor, Levy, and Murnane, 2003). This provides suggestive evidence that the endowments linked to more educational attainment may allow individuals to either better adapt to new technologies, or specialize in
tasks that more strongly complement these new technologies.

Basically, they observe what you would expect to observe if the computerization that begins around 1980 allowed the escape and takeoff of "non-routine analytic" power or abstract intelligence by those most genetically blessed with it. Implicitly, individuals less genetically blessed with "non-routine analytic" powers begin to be left behind around 1980.

Their findings cannot explain the entire postwar dynamic of increasing inequality and relative stagnation of the lower classes, however, because the flatlining of median wages begins around 1973 if I recall correctly. The study seems somewhat coy about naming or even labeling the polygenic score; but my non-expert intuition is that it would have to be something quite akin to what is called the "g-factor" or general intelligence, right?

One limitation of the study is that they use a dummy variable for the period after 1980. I would be curious to see what happens if one re-runs their models with a continuous variable for year. My intuition is that individual-level economic outcomes are more skill-biased/g-loaded today than in the 1980s, but I'm not yet up on any studies this precise on that question in particular.

The Political Science of Genetic Explanations with Elizabeth Suhay

Elizabeth Suhay is a political scientist who specializes in the study of public opinion and political psychology, especially regarding beliefs about the causes of inequality. In particular, her work has made some intriguing discoveries about how and why different individuals do or do not believe genetics are an important causal explanation for various phenomena. Dr. Suhay is Assistant Professor at American University, where she is also contributing to a large project on Evidence-Based Science Communication with Policymakers.

Given that debates about genetics and inequality are back in the spotlight today, instead of joining that debate I am more interested in exploring social-scientific angles that might help us decode why these debates are so controversial, confusing, and endless. So I reached out to Elizabeth for an apolitical, scientific angle on the psychology of how and why genetic explanations tend to be adopted or rejected. Elizabeth explains how and why individuals on the left and right favor or reject genetic explanations for different human characteristics. We talk about motivated reasoning, who really believes what and to what degree, and the role of media in activating motivated reasoning about genetic attributions.

Dr. Suhay's research mentioned in the podcast:

  1. "Discord Over DNA: Ideological Responses to Scientific Communication about Genes and Race." Alexandre Morin-Chasse, Elizabeth Suhay, and Toby Jayaratne. Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics 2(2): 260-299. Published version & abstract / Author PDF.

2016. "Lay Belief in Biopolitics and Political Prejudice." Elizabeth Suhay, Mark Brandt, and Travis Proulx. Social Psychological and Personality Science 8(2): 173-182. Published version & abstract / Author PDF.

2013. "Does Biology Justify Ideology? The Politics of Genetic Attribution." Elizabeth Suhay and Toby Jayaratne. Public Opinion Quarterly 77(2): 497-521. Published version & abstract / Author PDF.

#13 - Geoffrey Miller (Part 2 of 2)

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychology professor at the University of New Mexico in the USA, and is best known for his books The Mating Mind (2001), Mating Intelligence (2008), Spent (2009), and Mate (2015). He has a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, and has also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, and University College London. He has over 120 academic publications addressing sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has given 192 talks in 16 countries. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC. He has consulted for a variety of Fortune 500 companies, governments, NGOs, advertising agencies, market research companies, and social media companies. He is also active in the Effective Altruism, ancestral health, academic free speech, and polyamory movements. His current priority is leveraging evolutionary psychology insights to reduce the existential risks from Artificial General Intelligence.

Geoffrey's personal website: www.primalpoly.com

Geoffrey on Twitter: @primalpoly

Timestamps:

Capitalism, genetics, intelligence, etc. (00:00)

Polyamory with a purpose? (00:13)

Groups, clans, missions, cults, and the politics of optimal lifestyle design; blockchain polyamory? (00:26)

Public opinion toward free speech; hypothesizing about why some people reject free speech. (00:24)

How long will Trump last? Betting and prediction markets. (00:46)

Geoffrey's advice on how to live an intellectual life. (51:00)

#12 - Geoffrey Miller (Part 1 of 2)

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychology professor at the University of New Mexico in the USA, and is best known for his books The Mating Mind (2001), Mating Intelligence (2008), Spent (2009), and Mate (2015). He has a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, and has also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, and University College London. He has over 120 academic publications addressing sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has given 192 talks in 16 countries. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC. He has consulted for a variety of Fortune 500 companies, governments, NGOs, advertising agencies, market research companies, and social media companies. He is also active in the Effective Altruism, ancestral health, academic free speech, and polyamory movements. His current priority is leveraging evolutionary psychology insights to reduce the existential risks from Artificial General Intelligence.

Geoffrey's personal website: www.primalpoly.com

Geoffrey on Twitter: @primalpoly

Timestamps:

Feminist implications of Darwin and the politics of sexual selection. (00:00)

How the advent of bodyguards affected sexual politics. (00:07)

How to critique capitalism with evolutionary psychology. (00:17)

How being creative is a handicap. (00:24).

Can psychological knowledge provide an edge for creating radical social change? (00:31)

Declining fertility rates and anti-natalism. (00:37)

How the denial of IQ differences prevents us from criticizing cognitive domination. (00:50)

Will China soon dominate the world? (00:55)

How China’s use of molecular genetic technologies could lead to global domination in two generations. (01:01)

Antifa, guns, and why, if there is going to be revolution, Geoffrey thinks it’s not going to be an intersectional revolution. (01:08)

 

#6 - Diana S. Fleischman

Diana S. Fleischman is an evolutionary psychologist, currently Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth. Her interests include sex, disgust, veganism, utilitarianism, effective altruism, polyamory, and genetics, among other things.

Show notes with timestamps:

0:00 - 00:30

How we met on Twitter, how to make friends online, dissecting our online impressions of each other. Our weird ideological histories and intersections. Academics and drug use and talking about it on the internet. A thesis about the new ideological fracturing; the alt-right, etc.

00:30 - 00:50

Diana’s experiences with the vegan movement; the milquetoast Science March. Is “intersectionality” predictive? Diana’s view of how the left is changing, on smart people leaving the left and people with nuanced views being ejected. My thesis that there is no mass media or mainstream anymore.

Diana reviews the idea of personality, the Big Five traits. Most people are not very open to experience. Are apparent ideological differences really just due to a bunch of different lexicons and/or sociological differences? Lefties open to global warming science, not open to other science (GMOs, etc.). The problem of epistemic hygiene and disgust. Why are we so paranoid and afraid of each other when our society has never been more pacified? How evolutionary psychology explains the prevalence of signaling in politics. Very interesting exchange of hypotheses on this point, about what causes this to increase or decrease, and how it may or may not be changing. One has to be disagreeable to update; how Diana has lost a lot of friends many times but most people don’t want to do that. How I think this is changing on the left.

00:50 - 1:20

Debates about IQ and leftist denials of hierarchy. Partisan sorting. How ideology can be rational and at odds with the truth, at the same time. How social partners want to make each other really weird so there is less competition for their attention. Why it feels good when someone tells you a secret. Marriage; hierarchical polyamory vs. anarcho-polyamory. How polyamory makes healthy competition. Diana’s personal arrangements. Why I like monogamy and think pleasure is bad. It’s hard to think clearly and be honest when you’re trying to get laid. My interest in radical transparency, which Diana thinks is dumb. How sex could facilitate honesty.

Social media as escape behavior, how to manage this. Kink and sociopathy. How to use social media dopamine as a propeller of disciplined work, which you then reinvest into social media, and so on. Diana becomes more fluent when arguing. How we both leverage social media exchanges for more purposeful writing.

1:20 - 1:54

Here is when things get a little bit dicey. I asked Diana if “human biodiversity” is a racist dog-whistle or a real thing? Diana laid out a lot of arguments and cited a lot of evidence, and we had a long back and forth about this and its implications. Diana recommended the article “On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism,” an explicitly anti-racist case for "human biodiversity." I don’t know much about this stuff and I’m still processing the conversation to be honest. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, I also asked Diana about mental health and transgenderism. I’m just going to leave it at that. Definitely one of the more intense and politically challenging conversations I’ve had on this podcast so far.

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