Which came first? The genes or the divorce?

Which came first? The genes or the divorce?

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted July 3, 2007 in DNA in General

chick eggIt’s the classic chicken and egg debate. Parents may be more likely to divorce if they are depressed and children of these parents may have inherited the genes that increase their risk of depression. So how much impact does the actual divorce have on a child’s chances of developing depression?

Dr. Brian M. D’Onofrio and colleagues published a twin study in the latest issue of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry showing that:

  • The children of divorced fraternal twins (who share 50% of their genes) were more likely to be depressed or to have problems with anxiety than their cousins whose parents stayed married.
  • The children of divorced identical twins (who share 100% of their genes) had the same levels of depression regardless of their parents’ marital status.

Dr. D’Onofrio said:

This study suggests that the increased risk of emotional problems in the offspring of divorced parents is due to genetic risk shared by parents and their offspring. This is contrary to what a lot of people have assumed in sociology and psychology.

Dr. D’Onofrio specializes in genetically informed research which examines how genes might play a role in what seems to be a clear relationship between cause and effect. For example:

  • Mother’s smoking/nicotine and children’s risk of behavioral problems – Genes may predispose moms to smoke and the same genes may be inherited by children which lead to lower intelligence, impulsivity, and aggression.
  • Teen motherhood and risk of dropping out of school and poverty – Genes may predispose girls to low IQ, conduct problems, and antisocial behaviors that lead to teen pregnancy.
  • Close work and myopia – Genes play a role in nearsightedness and a person who is predisposed will need to bring objects closer to see them clearly.

Looking at through the lens of the genetically informed approach, it’s possible to hypothesize genetic influences on many associations. What other examples can you think of?

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Comment by David Bradley

Of course, the fact that divorce is apparently not much more than a lifestyle choice these days for many people, particularly celebs, validating a genetic basis for it is distorted beyond the situation we had a century ago. One pro among the cons though: there are plenty of statistics and case studies to investigate.


Comment by Hsien

I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to validate divorce using genetics or evolution for that matter. As with most of these studies, the key words are “more likely” and not “most certainly.”


[...] Which Came First? The Genes or the Divorce? That’s the question Hsien-Hsien Lei poses after reviewing two studies examining divorce and depression in children and their parents. [...]


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