Genetics and Investment Returns

Fortune magazine is featuring exciting new genetic research by Johns Hopkins researchers. This might not seem so surprising, but we’re pretty sure it’s a first that the genetic research comes from the Economics Department and concerns investment behavior.

Assistant Professor Nick Papageorge (by general consensus the coolest person on our faculty) along with two of our recent PhDs, Danny Barth of USC and Kevin Thom of NYU, exploited recent advances in polygenic scoring to find that genetic characteristics associated with academic attainment are strongly associated with what seem to be more reasonable financial beliefs, arguably better investment decisions, and with better overall wealth outcomes. The key findings is that the association remains apparent after taking account of an immense range of ‘nurture’ factors—stuff like family situation growing up, education, and labor income. Thus, the result bears on the classic nature versus nurture debate. Concretely, the results suggest that there may be a difficult-to-overcome nature factor that partially explains differential investment outcomes and contributes to wealth inequality.

We think Danny, Nick, and Kevin are onto a immensely important line of research here that you’ll hear a lot more about in the future.