This paper discusses why and how the consideration of inter-individual genetic variation can enhance the explanatory power of sociological inquiries of status attainment and social stratification. We argue that accounting for genetic variation may help to address longstanding and in some cases overlooked causality problems in explaining the emergence of social inequalities—problems which may interfere with both implicit and explicit interpretations of a society as “open” or “closed,” as meritocratic or non-meritocratic. We discuss the basic methodological tenets of genetically informative research (Sect. 2) and provide empirical examples and theoretical conceptualizations on how genetic variation contributes to status attainment (Sect. 3). This is followed by a discussion of gene-environment interplay in relation to more abstract ideas about social mechanisms that generate inequality, touching on normative implications of these ideas as well as considerations from a social justice perspective (Sect. 4). Finally, we briefly review the potential benefits as well as pitfalls of incorporating genetic influences into sociological explanations of status attainment. As we will argue, understanding how social influences impinge on the individual and how genes influence our lives requires sophisticated research designs based on sound sociological theory and methodology (Sect. 5).
Dieser Beitrag legt dar, wie die Berücksichtigung genetischer Variation die Erklärungskraft soziologischer Untersuchungen zu Status Attainment und sozialer Ungleichheit verbessern kann. Die Berücksichtigung genetischer Variation kann helfen, Probleme kausaler Schlüsse bei der Erklärung sozialer Ungleichheit zu mindern, die für eine implizite oder explizite Interpretation einer Gesellschaft als „offen“ oder „geschlossen“, als meritokratisch oder nicht meritokratisch ausschlaggebend sein können. Nach der Einleitung stellen wir die methodologischen Grundlagen verhaltensgenetischer und genetisch informativer Forschung dar (Abschn. 2) und zeigen theoretische Mechanismen und empirische Beispiele auf, wie genetische Variation Status Attainment beeinflussen kann (Abschn. 3). Anschließend werden die Grundlagen von Gen-Umwelt-Interaktionen diskutiert, insbesondere im Hinblick auf theoretische Überlegungen zur Genese und Bewertung sozialer Ungleichheit (Abschn. 4). Im letzten Teil stellen wir mögliche Vorteile und Fallstricke der Einbeziehung genetischer Variation in soziologische Erklärungen zu Status Attainment und sozialer Ungleichheit dar. Um zu verstehen, wie soziale und genetische Faktoren miteinander wirken und das Leben beeinflussen, braucht es anspruchsvolle Forschungsdesigns auf der Grundlage solider soziologischer Theorie und Methodologie (Abschn. 5).
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It is important to note that these designs rely on average known degrees of relatedness. For instance, dizygotic twins share 50 % of their genes on average. A particular dizygotic twin pair may also share more, or fewer, genes.
There are also other types of genetically informative designs (i.e. the adoption design). All of them follow the same idea and use information on known degrees of genetic and/or environmental similarity (for an overview see, i.e., Plomin et al. (2013)).
This is called narrow-sense heritability, because it only estimates the proportion of variance due to additive genetic effects (Purcell 2013, p. 381).
Heritability can be also be estimated through mixed effects (multilevel) models and DeFries-Fulker models.
This section describes patterns of the interplay of environmental and genetic factors. Genetic expression can be triggered by many mechanisms which are not discussed in this article. However, the newly evolving field of epigenetics provides promising insights on how environmental factors affect genes and therefore alter genetic expression without being inherited (see for a discussion on epigenetic mechanisms Shanahan and Hofer (2011)).
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Diewald, M., Baier, T., Schulz, W. et al. Status Attainment and Social Mobility. Köln Z Soziol 67 (Suppl 1), 371–395 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11577-015-0317-6
- Social stratification
- Social mobility
- Behavioral genetics
- Twin study
- Extended twin family design