Russell Sage, Ford Fund Sociogenomics Study

The Russell Sage Foundation and the Ford Foundation recently co-funded a new research project focused on the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), one of the most comprehensive and longest running social science cohort studies in the U.S.

For 60 years, UW–Madison researchers have tracked the health, well-being, and economic attainment of 10,000 Wisconsinites who graduated high school in 1957. In the past decade, researchers added a new component to WLS. Since 210, roughly 9,400 survey participants donated saliva samples so that researchers could extract and genotype their DNA.

Using newly available genomic data from WLS, the researchers Benjamin Domingue (Stanford), Jeremy Freese (Stanford), and Pamela Herd (UW–Madison; principal investigator of WLS) plan to address three major questions relating to the role of polygenic scores, or the predictive measure of an individual’s overall genetic risk.

Researchers hope to determine the extent to which education polygenic score differences are associated with differences in educational, occupational, and economic attainments. Second, the study aims to determine how cognitive and non-cognitive characteristics mediate the relationship between polygenic scores and socioeconomic outcomes. The study will also explore the extent to which early-life environments, including schools, moderate the effects of polygenic scores.

By undertaking “Sociogenomics in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study: Probing Questions of Validity Regarding the Genetics of Educational Attainment and Subsequent Occupational and Economic Attainments,” Domingue, Freese, and Herd hope to further our understanding of how individual differences and social environment shape processes of attainment across the life course.