How Intelligence Affects Fertility 30 Years On: Retherford and Sewell Revisited - With Polygenic Scores and Numbers of Grandchildren

Michael A Woodley Of Menie, Heiner Rindermann, Jonatan Pallesen, Matthew A Sarraf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


Using newly available polygenic scores for educational attainment and cognitive ability, this paper investigates the possible presence and causes of a negative association between IQ and fertility in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study sample, an issue that Retherford and Sewell first addressed 30 years ago. The effect of the polygenic score on the sample's reproductive characteristics was indirect: a latent cognitive ability measure, comprised of both educational attainment and IQ, wholly mediated the relationship. Age at first birth mediated the negative effect of cognitive ability on sample fertility, which had a direct (positive) effect on the number of grandchildren. Significantly greater impacts of cognitive ability on the sample's fertility characteristics were found among the female subsample. This indicates that, in this sample, having a genetic disposition toward higher cognitive ability does not directly reduce number of offspring; instead, higher cognitive ability is a risk factor for prolonging reproductive debut, which, especially for women, reduces the fertility window and, thus, the number of children and grandchildren that can be produced. By estimating the effect of the sample's reproductive characteristics on the strength of polygenic selection, it was found that the genetic variance component of IQ should be declining at a rate between -.208 (95% CI [-.020, -.383]) and -.424 (95% CI [-.041, -.766]) points per decade, depending on whether GCTA-GREML or classical behavior genetic estimates of IQ heritability are used to correct for 'missing' heritability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-153
Number of pages7
JournalTwin Research and Human Genetics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Intelligence/genetics
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Multifactorial Inheritance/genetics


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