While we wait for the genoeconomics revolution


Jason Collins


May 15, 2012

Following the publication of two new articles in the Annual Review of Economics and PNAS (my summary here), genoeconomics has been getting some press. From the Boston Globe:

But for all their throat-clearing and the cold water they feel compelled to throw on their work as they introduce it to the general public, they are confident that it’ll eventually be possible to match up patterns in a person’s genome with patterns of financial behavior. Perhaps parents could be alerted if their kids have genes that incline them to impulsive spending or wildly risky investments, Benjamin said. Or perhaps policy makers could use genetic information about a particular population—say, cigarette-smokers or alcoholics—in order to craft policy more effective at encouraging some behaviors and discouraging others.

While genoeconomics might provide exciting results, some of the information that is likely to emerge is already available to be used. We know from twin studies that patterns of financial behaviour are heritable. If a parent knows they are financially reckless, this can provide a probability of that behaviour for their child. You should worry about your child smoking or being an alcoholic if you have those characteristics yourself. We can obtain further information from the behaviour of siblings or other relatives. We do not need to wait for genoeconomics to deliver results before we can make inferences about genetically influenced behaviour.