“……inherited differences in DNA sequence are associated with academic choice and achievement.”
“…genetic factors influence academic choice, not just achievement.”
Genetic factors affect subject choice across a wide range of school subjects, including second language learning, mathematics and psychology.
Whether or not 16-year-olds choose to continue their studies at A-level in preparation for university is influenced in equal measure by genetic (44%) and shared environmental factors (47%). Choosing specific A-level subjects is more heritable (50% for humanities, 60% for STEM) and less influenced by shared environment (18% for humanities, 23% for STEM).
Another noteworthy aspect of the results in relation to choice is the substantial influence of shared environ-ment on choosing to do two years of A-level studies. We found that nearly half (47%) of the liability to make this choice can be attributed to shared environment. Although it does not seem surprising that parents and teachers influence both members of a twin pair to make similar choices about whether to do A-levels, this finding is note-worthy because, despite its reasonableness, it is rare to find such a major role for shared environment for other traits. It is possible that teachers and parents encourage both children in a twin pair to continue their studies at A-levels, but that specific career advice is more personalized. As noted above, shared environment has only half as much impact on choice of A-level subjects (23% for STEM; 18% for humanities), and it has even less effect on A-level grades (2% for STEM; 11% for humanities).
Finding substantial heritability for A-level exam scores at age 18 (65% for STEM; 49% for humanities) is consistent with our earlier research showing that educational achievement is highly heritable across compulsory education.
Heritability describes the extent to which phenotypic differences between individuals can be explained by genetic differences in a particular population with that population’s mix of genetic and environmental influences at that time.