Markers of psychological differences and social and health inequalities: possible genetic and phenotypic overlaps

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Associations between markers of ostensible psychological characteristics and social and health inequalities are pervasive but difficult to explain. In some cases, there may be causal influence flowing from social and health inequalities to psychological differences, whereas sometimes it may be the other way around. Here, we focus on the possibility that some markers that we often consider as indexing different domains of individual differences may in fact reflect at least partially overlapping genetic and/or phenotypic basis. For example, individual differences in cognitive abilities and educational attainment appear to reflect largely overlapping genetic influences, whereas cognitive abilities and health literacy may be almost identical phenomena at phenotypic, never mind genetic, level. We make the case for employing molecular genetic data and quantitative genetic techniques to better understand the associations of psychological individual differences with social and health inequalities. We illustrate these arguments by using published findings from Lothian Birth Cohort and the Generation Scotland studies. We also present novel findings pertaining to longitudinal stability and change in older age personality traits and correlates of the change, molecular genetic data-based heritability estimates of Neuroticism and Extraversion, and the genetic correlations of these personality traits with markers of social and health inequalities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality
Early online date1 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • personality traits
  • social inequality
  • health
  • heritability
  • genetic correlations
  • genetic risk
  • gcta


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