The influence of genes on the reading ability of children is limited, claims research.

The study by the Institute of Education concludes that policymakers should be wary of using genetics to explain why children from poorer homes tend to do less well at school than children from middle-class professional backgrounds.

The researchers focused on reading skills for two reasons. Firstly they are an important determinant of educational and occupational achievement and, secondly because some studies of twins have suggested that genetic factors account for around 75 per cent of the variance in children’s reading skills.

But the study found that the three genes that are said to have an effect on reading test scores (KIAA0319, CMIP and DCDC2) help to explain only two per cent of the performance gaps between children from different social classes.

The first two genes are associated with reading ability and the third has been linked to reading disorders such as dyslexia.

The researchers concluded, ‘The influence of these three genes on children’s reading ability is limited, and their role in producing socio-economic gaps are even more limited still.’

Dr John Jerrim and his colleagues reached these conclusions after analysing the reading scores of more than 5,000 children at the ages of seven, nine and 11. The children were born in the west of England between 1991 and 1993 and had all provided genetic information for the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. 

The reading scores came from specialist reading and comprehension tests and national exam results at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. Children with professional parents scored an average of 60 out of 100, while children with less qualified parents scored an average of 42. After analysing the children’s DNA, the researchers concluded that the three genes had very little influence on reading levels. 

However, while this research appears to challenge the previous research on twins, Dr Jerrim stressed that the study investigated the impact of only a small set of specific genes.

He said, ‘Many more genes may be implicated in the reading process – possibly hundreds each with small, independent effects. We are not dismissing the role of genetics in influencing children’s outcomes. We are simply cautioning that research of this kind is still in its infancy.’

The IOE study is one of the first to use bio-molecular data encoded from the human genome to explain differences across socio-economic groups in a cognitive skill. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and involved academics from the University of Cambridge, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Colorado.


By Seeta Bhardwa

Source: Nursery World –