The Influence of Major Life Events on Economic Attitudes in a World of Gene-Environment Interplay


  • Data collection was conducted by Lindon Eaves, Nicholas Martin, Andrew Heath, and Kenneth Kendler and supported by AA-06781 and MH-40828 from the National Institutes of Health. Without their efforts, this study would not have been possible. I thank Hermine Maes for assistance with data management and Michael Neale for access to the Mx program for structural modeling. I also thank Rose McDermott, Liz Prom-Wormley, Christina Grier, Amanda Frost, and the editor for their guidance, thoughtful discussions, and insightful comments. Replication data for this article are available at


The role of “genes” on political attitudes has gained attention across disciplines. However, person-specific experiences have yet to be incorporated into models that consider genetic influences. Relying on a gene-environment interplay approach, this study explicates how life events, such as losing one's job or suffering a financial loss, influence economic policy attitudes. The results indicate genetic and environmental variance on support for unions, immigration, capitalism, socialism, and property tax is moderated by financial risks. Changes in the magnitude of genetic influences, however, are temporary. After two years, the phenotypic effects of the life events remain on most attitudes, but changes in the sources of individual differences do not. Univariate twin models that estimate the independent contributions of genes and environment on the variation of attitudes appear to provide robust baseline indicators of the sources of individual differences. These estimates, however, are not event or day specific. In this way, genetic influences add stability, while environment cues change, and this process is continually updated.