Success may be “family affair”
Dec 08,2006 00:00 by Courtesy University of Bonn an
A study has led re­search­ers to spec­u­late that career suc­cess may be part­ly ge­ne­tic.

The sup­po­si­tion rests in part­i­cu­lar on two new find­ings, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said: that will­ing­ness both to take risks and to trust fel­low hu­mans seem in­her­it­ed. Since as­tute judg­ment in both are­nas are cru­cial to suc­cess in busi­ness and a range of oth­er fields, that it­self might be he­red­i­tary, they rea­soned.
The re­search­ers ad­mit­ted that cir­cum­stances al­so give rich kids a leg up, but ar­gued that genes con­t­ri­bute.

The study by the In­sti­tute for the Study of La­bor and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bonn, both in Bonn, Ger­ma­ny, was pub­lished
on­line as part of “dis­cus­sion pa­per” se­ries on the in­sti­tute’s web­site.

The re­search­ers used da­ta from a sur­vey of 3,600 Ger­man par­ents and their chil­dren. On av­er­age the chil­dren were 25 years old; more than 40 per­cent were no long­er liv­ing with their par­ents.

In “will­ing­ness to take risks, chil­dren are as­ton­ish­ing­ly si­m­i­lar to their par­ents,” said Uni­ver­si­ty of Bonn econ­o­mist Ar­min Falk. “This is not on­ly true for the over­all es­ti­mate, but al­so for the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. There are peo­ple, for ex­am­ple, for whom no [slope] is too steep when ski­ing, but who in­vest their mon­ey in se­cure gov­ern­ment bonds. An iden­ti­cal risk pro­file can of­ten be found with their chil­dren.”

Things are si­m­i­lar with the will­ing­ness to trust, he added. “Of course our re­sults are based on a sur­vey,” said Falk. “How­ev­er, our ex­per­i­ments over the last few years have shown that self-assessment is very con­sist­ent with ac­tu­al char­ac­ter traits.”

Genes that influence risk-taking have been re­port­ed in mice. In the Oct. 11, 2005 is­sue of Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tio­n­al Aca­de­my of Sci­en­ces, sci­en­tists de­scribed find­ing such a gene, called neu­roD2.

Falk’s sur­vey al­so found that wom­en and their hus­bands al­so tend to have si­m­i­lar at­ti­tudes on trust and risk-tak­ing. 

“Every eco­nom­ic de­ci­sion is risky, wheth­er it is about buy­ing shares, build­ing a house or just start­ing to study at uni­ver­si­ty,” Falk said. “On the oth­er hand suc­cess in busi­ness al­so in­volves the right amount of trust.”

“If chil­dren are si­m­i­lar to their par­ents in their will­ing­ness to take risks and trust oth­ers, they will of­ten make si­m­i­lar de­ci­sions in eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tions, too,” Falk con­ti­nued. “Of course peo­ple who come from a rich fam­i­ly simp­ly have bet­ter chances in life.” 

Zu­rich econ­o­mist Ernst Fehr re­cent­ly com­pared the will­ing­ness to take risks among Amer­i­cans and Ger­mans, us­ing the same set of ques­tions. U.S. in­ter­vie­wees scored an av­er­age of 5.6, where­as Ger­mans scored 4.4, no­tice­ably more cau­tious, Falk said.

“The U.S.A. is tra­di­tion­ally a coun­try of im­mi­gra­tion,” he ob­served. “Prob­a­bly it is particularly peo­ple who are prone to take risks that tend to em­i­grate; at least there is re­search point­ing in this di­rec­tion. Our re­sults add to this, show­ing that the will­ing­ness to take risks is some­how ‘in­her­it­ed.’ This may ex­plain the dif­fer­ence.”