Nov 11

Success – is it all in the genes?

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Success – is it all in the genes?

I was reading an interesting article in New Scientist a couple of weeks ago and it posed the question – is there an Oxbridge gene? It was based on a study by Ziada Ayorech of Kings College, London. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Oxbridge, it is a reference to the two oldest Universities in the UK – Oxford and Cambridge.

The premise of the article was that there could be a link between genes and the quality of University that people end up attending, assuming that this is something they choose to do.

The study

Looking at 3,000 pairs of twins, the suggestion was that your chances of going to a prestigious University are partly heritable:

  • If you are a identical twin, and your twin gets into an Oxbridge University, you have a significantly greater chance of getting in to Oxbridge yourself, than if you are a fraternal twin.


  • Between 50 and 80 percent of variation in people’s IQ is inherited. As intelligence affects examination results, it is quite possible this may be linked to University destination.
  • Having adjusted the results statistically to deal with relevant variables, they still considered that 47% of variation in the quality of University people went to could be genetic.

It seems open and shut then?

Not quite, there was no indication that you could determine where someone would go to University purely based upon genes.

So what?

The key point was that 47% of the variation in intelligence appears to be due to genetic inheritance – but that means 53% is not. The 53% that isn’t is influenced by factors such as environment and the parenting you receive as a chid.

In short, what this means is that whilst some of our fate is determined by genes, a significant proportion isn’t.

This plays into a phenomenon in psychology where people can be held to have a
fixed or a growth mindset. Those with fixed mindsets feel that their capabilities are somehow ‘set’ at the start of life and cannot be developed further. Conversely, those with a growth mindset feel that it doesn’t matter what capabilities you have now, you can always develop more.

Success, is it all in the genes?


Whilst having good genes undoubtedly positions you well for success in life, or in getting into a prestigious University. However, success is not so much about the cards you are dealt, but how you play them. That was really the point to the New Scientist article. They point out that plenty of people are a success without going to University.

Hence, it all reduces to a fairly simple concept – namely, its not what you have got, its what you do with it! So, let me leave you with a question I often ask – if you aren’t enjoying the success you desire in life, are you trying hard enough?

If you want to be challeged to come up with a better life or career plan why not give us a call?

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