Large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have identified genetic variants that are correlated with socially-valued lifecourse outcomes, such as educational attainment and criminal justice system involvement. Critics warn that genetic research on human social and behavioral outcomes risks entrenching racist and classist dimensions of social inequality. In this talk, I will review recent GWASs of education and externalizing psychopathology, and describe various processes that contribute to observed associations between polygenic scores and human behavioral outcomes. I then describe how genetically-associated inequalities can be viewed through the lens of luck egalitarianism, and how this philosophical perspective on fair versus unfair inequality is already manifest in current educational research and policy. I conclude by suggesting ways in which genetic research can be used to advance equity goals, with a particular focus on how polygenic score data could be used to identify settings and interventions that serve vulnerable populations.
Kathryn Paige Harden, Ph.D. is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is the director of the Developmental Behavior Genetics lab and co-directs the Texas Twin Project. She has co-authored over 100 scientific articles on how genes influence how children and adolescents think, feel, and behave. Her opinion pieces have been published in outlets including the New York Times, the Spectator, Vox and the Boston Globe. Dr. Harden’s book on genetics and social inequality is forthcoming from Princeton University Press in Fall 2021. Follow her on Twitter at @kph3k.