Societal openness, normative flux, and the social modification of heritability
In this project, we will use social modifications of heritability as measurement devices for assessing how social conditions shape opportunity structures, and how human potential is either constrained or enabled. Major themes in family demography and social stratification such as equality of opportunity in the age of mass education, changing family structures in the 20th century, development of life courses and careers, and intergenerational transmission processes all motivate an important role for human genetics. Up to recently, little of these efforts have directly engaged with genetic research. A common criticism of genetic methods is that they are silent on social context and environmental interactions. We turn these criticisms into tools, by assessing how genetic effects vary across contexts and environments. First, we study social change across cohorts, as influential theory suggests heritable dispositions will increase in importance when opportunity structures expand or social norms are in flux. We will test these ideas on the recent decades of family and fertility changes, and the expanding opportunity structures in education and labor markets. Second, we ask whether genetic and environmental influences on social stratification and family demographic outcomes change over the life course as the consequences of individual choice and social structures accumulate. Third, we will examine the similarity in outcomes of parents and their offspring from a genetically informed standpoint. A synergy combining state-of-the-art techniques from molecular and behavior genetics with high-quality population register data and strong theorization and measurement of socio-environmental factors from the social sciences is highly innovative cross-fertilization of research that will yield major new insights.