June 08, 2006
Genetics Causes Half Of Entrepreneurship

Genetic causes of behavior matter because they influence us right now. But they will matter even more in the future when offspring genetic engineering becomes a reality. I think it unlikely that people will consciously choose the same frequencies of genetic variations for their offspring as occur naturally. Every human nature that has some genetic causes is going to become either more or less frequent when people can choose which genetic variations to give their offspring. Hence every report about genetic causes of some human behavior is a report about something humans do that they'll become either more or less inclined to do in the future. Will parents choose to use genetic engineering make their kids more entrepreneurial?

Scott Shane, the Mixon Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management; Nicos Nicolaou, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the Tanaka School of Business of Imperial College London; and Janice Hunkin, Lynn Cherkas, and Tim Spector of the Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology Unit at St Thomas' Hospital in London, home of the UK Twin registry of over 10,000 twins collaborated in this unique study. They compared rates of entrepreneurship between and among more than 1,200 pairs of identical and fraternal twins in the U.K and conclude that nearly half—48 percent—of an individual's propensity to become self-employed is genetic.

The authors studied self-employment among 609 pairs of identical twins, and compared it to self-employment among 657 pairs of same-sex fraternal twins in the U.K. Identical twins share 100% of their genetic composition, while fraternal twins share about 50%, on average. Thus differences in the rates at which pairs of identical twins both become entrepreneurs and the rates at which both members of fraternal twins both become entrepreneurs are attributable to genetics. "One can look at the patterns of concordance (the numbers of pairs of twins in which both members are or are not entrepreneurs) and reasonably infer that genetic factors account for the differences," says Shane.

The authors propose several methods by which genetic factors might influence people's tendency to become entrepreneurs. For example, genes may predispose an individual to develop traits such as being sociable and extroverted, which in turn facilitate skills such as salesmanship, which are vital to entrepreneurial success.

In addition, genes have been shown to affect the level of education an individual receives, and more highly educated people are likelier to become entrepreneurs because they are better able to recognize new business opportunities when they arise.

It is likely that entrepreneurship comes as a result of other qualities as mentioned above. Will parents choose those qualities based on a desire to make their kids self-employed? Or will they choose those qualities mainly for other reasons and will the effect on entrepreneurial behavior come as a side effect of choices made for other reasons?

People in different cultures, economic classes, occupations, religions, and with different genetically determined qualities for their own minds will make different choices on average. Will this tend to make the human race diverge? Or will there be a wide consensus on all the important genetically controlled qualities of the mind and will humanity tend to converge?

One split I expect: I predict some religious folks will choose genetic qualities that make their kids more inclined to have faith. Whereas more empirically minded folks will choose genetic qualities that make their kids highly skeptical, critical, and empirical. Though some of a more socialistic bent might choose qualities that make kids turn out more altruistic and group-oriented.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 June 08 06:42 AM  Brain Genetics

jb said at June 8, 2006 12:14 PM:

The more I learn about genetics and the traits that allow one to succeed and fail, the more I feel compelled to leave everything alone. If you make your kids more faithful, they may not live as long, they may be "seduced" by other religions or become more addicted to drugs. If you make your kids more skeptical, they get depressed more easily, are less likely to be optimistic and take risks. Make them happier, and they're less likely to attempt to do something meaningful with their lives. If you make your kids too optimistic, they have a good chance of getting hurt or killed when they're young, and they might be more easily scammed. If you make them too studious, they're less creative. If you make them too creative, they're not good at getting things done and vice versa. If you make them too brave, they'll become smoke jumpers, but if you make them too cautious, they'll end up in miserable jobs working for giant companies that seem "safe".

(I'm not citing specific studies, I'm making general conceptual arguments).

In general, I want my kids to be happy, optimistic, intelligent and beautiful, with plenty of self-confidence, gregarious and analytical, creative and effective, able to detect fraud and scams easily, question authority and the status quo, eager to change the world and do great things, and yet grounded in a firm belief in reason, logic and science and eager to have plenty of kids. But I'm not sure that those things can all fit into one little person.

Joel said at June 8, 2006 1:22 PM:

I do believe that parents will choose genetic engineering. Most parents seek out opportunties to give their kids advantages. What I think will be interesting is to see how this affects certain class systems globally.

The Superfluous Man said at June 8, 2006 3:22 PM:

I suspect that the vast majority of Americans, if engineering their kids, would refrain from shaping their ideology, simply because they aren't that ideological. So the side effects of universally desirable traits, like height or intelligence, are more important. I can see a large contingent engineering 'faith' though, and many fewer the opposite. I'm optimistic about genetic engineering, simply because of the genetic nature of IQ, and all its correlates with social success. Given a safe procedure, and 4, low-5 digit prices or less, there is much potential. Peter Lynn, in Eugenics, according to Amazon reviews (have not read the book), says that IQ can be raised 15 points per generation through just embryo and sperm selection, not engineering.

jb, you're basically complaining about how you're kids cannot be both a man and a woman, an introvert or an extrovert, etc. Of course! And besides, I doubt there is one gene to rule them all, for a given trait, that puts you from one extreme to the next. These traits form a continuum, with origins likely in multiple, interacting genes.

I wonder how entrepeneurial genes correlate with economic conservatism/libertarianism.

Randall Parker said at June 8, 2006 4:57 PM:


Keep in mind that once genetic engineering is cheap we are going to be able to compare the most successful people in various occupations to the public at large. This will lead to, for example, identification of alleles that make better trial lawyers, better surgeons, better basketball players, better CEOs, better violinists, better physicists. Most people aren't going to have your worries. They are going look at how they can make their kids more like successful people.

As for happiness and drive: I'm sure that combinations of alleles can be found that make people both happy and very hard working and ambitious. I'm not convinced all of your trade-offs will really turn out to be trade-offs.

Superfluous Man,

I'm wondering how all sorts of political tendencies and other tendencies of thought correlate with genetic variations.

aa2 said at June 8, 2006 10:37 PM:

I think people will more go for raw intelligence.. And let personality be based off of their own genetics. On religious belief that is strongly correlated with IQ. As IQ gets higher belief in religion falls and vice versa. That is why even religious americans dont' seem very religious compared to say Arab muslims.. who truly believe they are going to paradise if they die fighting for their god. Its a 98 IQ nation, versus an 82 IQ people.

If you go higher to say a Japan or Scandanavia religion again changes to be much less based on faith in gods.. and more a general spirituality. In Scandanvia today less then 10% of the population believes in god.

Bob Badour said at June 16, 2006 6:30 AM:

I'd be happier giving my kids my intelligence without my personality. Then again, I am comparing against the population today and not against the population in 50 years where I might find myself on the not-quite-so-bright end of the bell curve.

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