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. 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.Abstract
Humans tend to form social relationships with others who resemble them. Whether this sorting of like with like arises from historical patterns of migration, meso-level social structures in modern society, or individual-level selection of similar peers remains unsettled. Recent research has evaluated the possibility that unobserved genotypes may play an important role in the creation of homophilous relationships. We extend this work by using data from 5,500 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to examine genetic similarities among pairs of friends. Although there is some evidence that friends have correlated genotypes, both at the whole-genome level as well as at trait-associated loci (via polygenic scores), further analysis suggests that meso-level forces, such as school assignment, are a principal source of genetic similarity between friends. 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.