Noncognitive skills and cognitive abilities are both important contributors to educational attainment—the number of years of formal schooling that a person completes—and lead to success across the life course, according to a new study from an international team led by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the University of Texas at Austin, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The research provides evidence for the idea that inheriting genes that affect things other than cognitive ability are important for understanding differences in people’s life outcomes. Until now there had been questions about what these noncognitive skills are and how much they really matter for life outcomes. The new findings are published in the journal Nature Genetics.
“Genetic studies of educational attainment were initiated with the goal of identifying genes that influenced cognitive abilities. They’ve had some success in doing that. But it turns out they’ve also identified genetics that influence a range of other skills and characteristics,” said Daniel Belsky, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology. ”What was most surprising to me about our results was that these noncognitive skills contributed just as much to the heritability of educational attainment as cognitive ability.” Of the total genetic influence on educational attainment, referred to as the heritability, cognitive abilities accounted for 43 percent and noncognitive skills accounted for 57 percent.