Behavior Genetics

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 36–51 | Cite as

What Explains the Heritability of Completed Fertility? Evidence from Two Large Twin Studies

  • Daniel A. BrileyEmail author
  • Felix C. Tropf
  • Melinda C. Mills
Original Research


In modern societies, individual differences in completed fertility are linked with genotypic differences between individuals. Explaining the heritability of completed fertility has been inconclusive, with alternative explanations centering on family formation timing, pursuit of education, or other psychological traits. We use the twin subsample from the Midlife Development in the United States study and the TwinsUK study to examine these issues. In total, 2606 adult twin pairs reported on their completed fertility, age at first birth and marriage, level of education, Big Five personality traits, and cognitive ability. Quantitative genetic Cholesky models were used to partition the variance in completed fertility into genetic and environmental variance that is shared with other phenotypes and residual variance. Genetic influences on completed fertility are strongly related to family formation timing and less strongly, but significantly, with psychological traits. Multivariate models indicate that family formation, demographic, and psychological phenotypes leave no residual genetic variance in completed fertility in either dataset. Results are largely consistent across U.S. and U.K. sociocultural contexts.


Fertility Family formation Behavior genetics Personality Cognitive ability 



This research is funded by the European Research Council Consolidator Grant SOCIOGENOME (615603, and an Economic and Social Research Council UK, National Centre for Research Methods SOCGEN Grant (

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Daniel A. Briley, Felix C. Tropf, and Melinda C. Mills declare they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

The MIDUS was approved by the institutional review boards of the University of Wisconsin and Harvard Medical School. The TwinsUK study was approved by the King’s College London Ethics Committee. All participants provided informed consent before taking part in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel A. Briley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Felix C. Tropf
    • 2
  • Melinda C. Mills
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Nuffield CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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