It is well known that social and other environmental factors influence education. These findings suggest that large genetics analyses may be able to help discover biological pathways as well.
The study, conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium, analysed the genetic information from 300,000 people, primarily of European descent, who had participated in previous studies where their education had been recorded.
Previous research has shown that genetic factors account for about 20 per cent of variation in educational attainment.
The newly identified genetic factors account for a very small fraction of this variation, the researchers said.
The size of the study, published in the journal Nature, made it possible to answer questions not able to be addressed previously.
For example, the researchers were able to identify many more genetic factors that appear to contribute to cognitive ability than had been previously known.
The study has implications for future research, where these links can be further explored.
“These study results will enable us to ask more refined questions about the genetic and environmental underpinnings of educational attainment and their health consequences,” said Jonathan King, programme director in US National Institute on Ageing.
“For example, we’ve known for quite a while that education appears to be a protective factor against Alzheimer’s,” King noted. “Perhaps ultimately, we’ll be able to learn why and how educational attainment seems to be protective of cognition in later life,” King said.