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This subtle genetic similarity was observed across the entire genome and at sets of genomic locations linked with specific traits—educational attainment and body mass index—a phenomenon we term “social–genetic correlation.” We also find evidence of a “social–genetic effect” such that the genetics of a person’s friends and schoolmates influenced their own education, even after accounting for the person’s own genetics.
Humans tend to form social relationships with others who resemble them.
Add Health surveyed 90,118 US adolescents aged 12–18 in 1994–1995 using a school-based sampling frame.
As part of the survey, students were asked to list the names of their friends.
Our study reported significant findings of a “social genome” that can be quantified and studied to understand human health and behavior.
In a national sample of more than 5,000 American adolescents, we found evidence of social forces that act to make friends and schoolmates more genetically similar to one another compared with random pairs of unrelated individuals.
In step 2, we ask about the role of school assignment in observed genetic similarity among friends.We considered the genetics of three phenotypes: height, body mass index (BMI) (a measure of adiposity), and educational attainment.We used polygenic scores to summarize phenotype-related genetics.For these reasons, in the present study, we characterize genetic homophily within adolescent social networks in the United States.Specifically, we analyze data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) (23).We also observe apparent social–genetic effects in which polygenic scores of an individual’s friends and schoolmates predict the individual’s own educational attainment.In contrast, an individual’s height is unassociated with the height genetics of peers.First, social networks can influence mating markets, so genetic similarity among friends may be one source of genetic similarity among spouses.Second, there may exist social–genetic effects—the effects of alter’s genotype on ego’s phenotype (1, 14, 15)—which would further suggest that social sorting on genotype may have consequences for the distribution of phenotypes in a population beyond its effect on subsequent generations through assortative mating.To address potential confounding of analysis by ancestry, we focused on unrelated respondents of European ancestry.We also conducted analysis of genetic relatedness of the full Add Health sample using the REAP algorithm (26), which is designed to estimate genetic similarity in the presence of population stratification. Estimates of genetic similarity among friends were positive (Table 1).