Integrating Genetic Data into Economics
Virtually all human traits have been shown to be at least partially influenced by genetic factors. This includes individual differences that are relevant to economists such as educational attainment, income, risk tolerance, and occupational choice. If the genetic architecture of economic preferences and outcomes would be known, we could use that information to (i) gain a better understanding of environmental effects, (ii) study the interaction of environmental and inherited factors, (iii) identify causal effects in non-experimental data, and (iv) have new tools to test and improve theoretical concepts. However, economic preferences and outcomes are genetically complex traits that are influenced by thousands of different genes. Each of these genes tends to have only tiny effects, which makes them difficult to identify. Yet, the effects of all genes combined can account for a substantial share of variation of these outcomes in the population. We established the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC – http://www.thessgac.org) to pool genetic data and expertise from ≈100 research centers around the globe with the goal to enable statistically well-powered analyses in extremely large samples. This infrastructure allows us to identify replicable genetic associations on social-scientific outcomes. The results of this work are beginning to bear fruits across various disciplines, including economics, psychology, and epidemiology. As an empirical example, I will focus on the results from genome-wide association studies on educational attainment. The results of these studies have been used to identify gene-environment interactions, to elucidate the relationship between body height and educational attainment, and to gain new insights into cognitive and mental health.