IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Genes, gender inequality, and educational attainment

23 January 2019, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

Class activity group work - Wellington College via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Reductions in social and structural constraints that limited women’s educational attainment over the last century have profoundly altered women’s opportunities. Had women’s genetic potential for higher educational attainment, as compared to men’s, been suppressed? 

Event Information

Open to





Dingeman Wiertz


Room G02
UCL Institute of Education
55-59 Gordon Square
United Kingdom

The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), a nearly full life course longitudinal study of a 1939 birth cohort, offers a novel opportunity to explore this question. The participants graduated from high school when gender inequalities in educational attainment were at the peak of the 20th century.

However unlike with other existing longitudinal cohort studies, the data gathered here allows an insight into how an education ‘polygenic score’ (EGPS) predicted educational attainment from participants’ mid 20s when social and structural constraints were large, to their 40s as these constraints weakened and women’s rates of enrolment in post-secondary schooling accelerated far more rapidly than for men.

From this data a correlation has been identified between EGPS and educational attainment which is stronger for men than for women, particularly in 1975 when participants were in their early 30s. However, as expectations and opportunities changed for women in the 1980s and 1990s, the strength of the association between EGPS and women’s post-secondary enrolment and attainment was stronger than for men.

These findings illustrate the complexity of how social conditions influence the manifestation of 'genetic potential' into more complicated behavioural outcomes of concern to social scientists.

This seminar is free and open to all; no booking required.



  • Wellington College via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

About the Speaker

Pamela Herd

at Georgetown University

Pamela Herd's research expertise focuses on inequality and how it intersections with health, aging, and policy. She is also expert in survey research and biodemographic methods.

More about Pamela Herd