The Intergenerational Transmission of Mathematics Achievement: A Genetically Informed Study

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Borriello, Giulia Alexandra
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 18, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Jenae Marie Neiderhiser, Dissertation Advisor
  • Jenae Marie Neiderhiser, Committee Chair
  • David John Vandenbergh, Committee Member
  • Kristin Ann Buss, Committee Member
  • Rick Owen Gilmore, Outside Member
  • mathematics achievement
  • intergenerational transmission
  • behavioral genetics
  • parenting
  • heritability
  • mathematics development
  • gene-environment interplay
Developmental psychologists aim to identify factors that influence children’s mathematics development. However, most phenotypic work does not account for effects of heritable contributions to mathematics development. Because heritability influences mathematics achievement, understanding how genes and environments work together to impact mathematics achievement would better clarify the intergenerational processes that influence mathematics development within families. This dissertation, which is situated within a bioecological framework, used a prospective adoption design to disentangle genetic and environmental influences on mathematics achievement in middle childhood, and to test for transactional associations between these pathways on child mathematics achievement. First, this study examined whether there were direct effects of heritable factors, including birth mother math achievement and EF, and environmental factors, including various adoptive mother and father parenting behaviors, on adopted child mathematics achievement at age 7. Findings suggested that mathematics achievement is transmitted through a heritable factor, birth mother math achievement, but not through birth mother EF. Moreover, adoptive father but not mother, a) sensitive parenting behavior marginally predicted adopted child mathematics achievement and b) structured parenting behavior marginally predicted adopted child EF, suggesting that child cognitive outcomes are transmitted through environmental pathways from fathers, but not mothers. Second, this study examined associations between heritable influences and environmental factors and found that birth mother EF marginally predicted adoptive mother sensitive parenting at age 4.5, suggestive of an evocative gene-environment correlation. Taken together, these findings indicate that mathematics achievement is transmitted from parents to children via heritable pathways and paternal, but not maternal, parenting behaviors. This dissertation highlights the utility of using genetically-informed designs to understand etiological sources influencing mathematics achievement in childhood.