Genetic factors explain a major proportion of human height variation, but differences in mean stature have also been found between socio-economic categories suggesting a possible effect of environment. By utilizing a classical twin design which allows decomposing the variation of height into genetic and environmental components, we tested the hypothesis that environmental variation in height is greater in offspring of lower educated parents.
Twin data from 29 cohorts including 65,978 complete twin pairs with information on height at ages 1 to 69 years and on parental education were pooled allowing the analyses at different ages and in three geographic-cultural regions (Europe, North America and Australia, and East Asia). Parental education mostly showed a positive association with offspring height, with significant associations in mid-childhood and from adolescence onwards. In variance decomposition modeling, the genetic and environmental variance components of height did not show a consistent relation to parental education.
A random-effects meta-regression analysis of the aggregate-level data showed a trend towards greater shared environmental variation of height in low parental education families. In conclusion, in our very large dataset from twin cohorts around the globe, these results provide only weak evidence for the study hypothesis.
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