Demographic Behaviour and Behaviour Genetics

By Vetta, Atam; Courgeau, Daniel | Population, July-October 2003 | Go to article overview

Demographic Behaviour and Behaviour Genetics


Vetta, Atam, Courgeau, Daniel, Population


Recently, a number of researchers have published articles in major demographic journals (Kohler et al.,. 1999; Foster. 2000; Morgan and King, 2001; Rodgers et al., 2001), arguing that the methods of quantitative genetics based on Fisher (1918), and the model fitting approach used by behaviour geneticists in particular, should be used to study demographic behaviour. Other demographers support this view, because they believe that it is necessary to consider the impact of behavioural genetics on demographic behaviour (Coleman, 2002; Hobcraft, 2002). The links between genes and human reproduction (fertility and other fitness traits) are also the subject of interdisciplinary studies. New books (Rodgers et al., 2000: Rodgers and Kohler, 2003) consider various questions in this field. Previously, the behaviour genetics approach has been used in a number of social science areas. It has been used for over 30 years in psychology (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Dunne et al., 1997; Segal and McDonald, 1998; for more references, see Capron et al.. 1999), gerontology (McGue et al., 1993), sociology (Lichtenstein et al., 1992), psychiatry (Kender et al., 2000), and so on. The Behavior Genetics Society and its journal Behavior Genetics are dedicated to research using this methodology. The central point of these studies is the claim that there is a genetic component in behavioural traits, and that the contribution of this component to the variance of the traits in the population can be measured. Demographic traits for which this claim is now being advanced include fertility, mating success, longevity, juvenile survival, divorce, etc. The psychological and medical traits include "intelligence" as measured by IQ scores (Pedersen et al., 1992), personality (DiLalla et al., 1996), alcoholism (Blum et al., 1990), smoking (Kender et al., 2000), homosexuality (Eckert et al., 1986), femininity (Bouchard and McGue 1990), morningness-eveningness (Hurr et al., 1998), aggression, hostility and anger (Gustavson et al., 1996), obesity (Brookman and Bevoral, 2002), soda or fruit juice intake (de Castro, 1993), etc.

Galton's (1869) nature-nurture division is illusory. The two effects cannot be separated for any human trait. We explain the genetic concepts used in behaviour genetics model fitting and the concept of heritability, as well as their deficiencies. We suggest another concept to study inheritance of a trait. Most human traits involve assortative mating, but behaviour geneticists use incorrect formulae when they fit models involving assortative mating (Capron et al., 1999). We explain why Fisher's (1918) formulae are wrong and discuss the algebraic error in Jinks and Fulker (1970). We enumerate some factors that affect fertility and give examples of how molecular biology and genomic research, and specifically the unravelling of the species' genome, are increasing our knowledge of demographic behaviour.

I. Definitions and genetic terminology

The name "behaviour geneticist" is used by two distinct groups of researchers. One group specializes in laboratory experiments on animals. Their experiments are well designed and well executed. We acknowledge their contribution to science and this paper does not relate to their work. The other group of "behaviour geneticists" acknowledge their debt to Jinks and Fulker (1970). They do not conduct experiments and fit statistical models of the components of variance type to observed data. They could be described as observational behaviour geneticists. The parametric values obtained from fitted models, they believe, enable them to solve the nature-nurture problem. Examples in the Introduction relate to them and we are, primarily, concerned with questions and problems associated with their work. As not all readers of Population are specialists in population genetics, we define the genetic terms and concepts used in this article. Those familiar with the genetic terminology may go directly to Section II. …

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