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Volume 22 Issue 1 (January 2019), Pages

Accounting for the shared environment in cognitive abilities and academic achievement with measured socioecological contexts

Abstract Behavioral and molecular genetic research has established that child cognitive ability and academic performance are substantially heritable, but genetic variation does not account for all of the stratification of cognitive and academic outcomes across families. Which specific contexts and experiences contribute to these shared environmental influences on cognitive ability and academic achievement? Using an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample of N = 1728 twins ages 7–20 from the Texas Twin Project, we identified specific measured family, school, and neighborhood socioecological contexts that statistically accounted for latent shared environmental variance in cognitive abilities and academic skills. Composite measures of parent socioeconomic status (SES), school demographic composition, and neighborhood SES accounted for moderate proportions of variation in IQ and achievement. Total variance explained by the multilevel contexts ranged from 15% to 22%. The influence of family SES on IQ and achievement overlapped substantially with the influence of school and neighborhood predictors. Together with race, the measured socioecological contexts explained 100% of shared environmental influences on IQ and approximately 79% of shared environmental influences on both verbal comprehension and reading ability. In contrast, nontrivial proportions of shared environmental variation in math performance were left unexplained. We highlight the potential utility of constructing “polyenvironmental risk scores” in an effort to better predict developmental outcomes and to quantify children's and adolescents’ interrelated networks of experiences. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/77E_DctFsr0

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