Pathways Between a Polygenic Score for Educational Attainment and Higher Educational Attainment in an African American Sample

  • Jill A. RabinowitzEmail author
  • Sally I-Chun Kuo
  • Benjamin Domingue
  • Mieka Smart
  • William Felder
  • Kelly Benke
  • Brion S. Maher
  • Nicholas S. Ialongo
  • George Uhl
Original Research


We investigated the extent to which performance on standardized achievement tests, executive function (EF), and aggression in childhood and adolescence accounted for the relationship between a polygenic score for educational attainment (EA PGS) and years of education in a community sample of African Americans. Participants (N = 402; 49.9% female) were initially recruited for an elementary school-based prevention trial in a Mid-Atlantic city and followed into adulthood. In first and twelfth grade, participants completed math and reading standardized tests and teachers reported on participants’ aggression and EF, specifically impulsivity and concentration problems. At age 20, participants reported on their years of education and post-secondary degrees attained and their genotype was assayed from blood or buccal swabs. An EA PGS was created using results from a large-scale GWAS on EA. A higher EA PGS was associated with higher education indirectly via adolescent achievement. No other mediating mechanisms were significant. Adolescent academic achievement is thus one mechanism through which polygenic propensity for EA influences post-secondary education among urban, African American youth.


Educational attainment Polygenic score Achievement Executive function Aggression Childhood Adolescence 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Jill A. Rabinowitz, Sally I-Chun Kuo, Benjamin Domingue, Mieka Smart, William Felder, Kelly Benke, Brion S. Maher, Nicholas S. Ialongo, and George Uhl declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board #9223) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10519_2019_9982_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2 mb)
Supplementary file1 (DOCX 2010 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mental HealthJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HeathBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.College of Human MedicineMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.New Mexico VA Health Care SystemLas VegasUSA

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