Research highlight

Genetic meritocracy in post-Soviet Estonia

Nature Human Behaviour

April 10, 2018

Inherited genetic ability explains more of people's educational and occupational achievements under the more meritocratic social system of post-Soviet Estonia, compared to the Soviet era, finds a study published online this week in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

People’s life outcomes and socio-economic status can be explained by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Kaili Rimfeld, Robert Plomin, and colleagues analysed the genes of 12,500 Estonian citizens, alongside information on their levels of educational attainment and occupation. Participants were split into those who grew up under the Soviet Union and those who received their secondary or further education after 1991, in post-Soviet, independent Estonia. This transition to independence is generally assumed to include a change towards more meritocratic access to education and job opportunities.

The authors found that genetic differences known to impact educational attainment and occupational status accounted for twice as much of the variance in these life outcomes in the more meritocratic, post-Soviet capitalist era compared to under the communist society of the Soviet era. This finding demonstrates how major changes in societal structures and equality of opportunities can influence the extent to which achievement reflects ability.

doi: 10.1038/s41562-018-0332-5

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