Behavior Genetics

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 627–648 | Cite as

Genetic and Environmental Influences on Literacy and Numeracy Performance in Australian School Children in Grades 3, 5, 7, and 9

  • Katrina L. GrasbyEmail author
  • William L. Coventry
  • Brian Byrne
  • Richard K. Olson
  • Sarah E. Medland
Original Research


We examined the extent to which genes and the environment contributed to variation in and covariation among reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation, writing, and numeracy in Australian school children in Grades 3, 5, 7, and 9. Heritability was generally high: reading .58–.71 (excepting Grade 5 girls), spelling .68–.78; grammar and punctuation .52–.66, writing .39–.52, and numeracy .39–.79. Boys’ performance varied more than girls in spelling and numeracy, and the common environment was a greater influence in girls than boys in Grade 3 numeracy and Grade 5 reading. Independent pathway models showed similar genetic and environmental structures at each grade with approximately one third to one half of the variation in each domain due to genes that influenced all domains. The covariation among the domains was largely mediated by genes. Results suggest substantial uniformity in the environmental factors influencing these academic domains.


Reading Numeracy Academic achievement Twins Sex differences Generalist genes 



This research was supported by an Australian Research Council grant (DP120102414). The Australian Twin Registry is supported by an enabling grant (628911) from the National Health and Medical Research Council. We thank the Australian Twin Registry, and the twins and parents involved.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Katrina L. Grasby, William L. Coventry, Brian Byrne, Richard K. Olson, and Sarah E. Medland declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study, and all procedures were performed in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of New England (HE12-150).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katrina L. Grasby
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
    Email author
  • William L. Coventry
    • 1
  • Brian Byrne
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Richard K. Olson
    • 4
  • Sarah E. Medland
    • 5
  1. 1.Discipline of Psychology, School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social SciencesUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Cognition and its DisordersSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.National Health and Medical Research Council Centre of Excellence in Twin ResearchCanberraAustralia
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  5. 5.Queensland Institute of Medical ResearchHerston, BrisbaneAustralia

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