ZiF Research Group

Genetic and Social Causes of Life Chances


Convenors: Martin Diewald (Bielefeld, GER), Rainer Riemann (Bielefeld, GER)

How do genetic and environmental factors influence the societal position and social mobility of individuals? Which mediating processes are relevant for the realization of such life chances? What are advantages and disadvantages of modern research strategies such as the examination of single alleles, genome-wide association studies or extended twin family designs? Can the advantages of these designs be combined? How could historical or cross-cultural comparisons contribute to our understanding of the interplay between nature and nurture? Do we have to reconsider our notion of social justice in the face of genetic influences on life chances? These and other questions can obviously only be answered by an interdisciplinary team and will be the focus of our research group.

Recent research strongly suggests that the genetic influences on social inequality, social mobility, and social integration are as substantial as those on personality and ability traits. The "blank slate" metaphor still guiding standard social scientific research in large parts should therefore be abandoned in favor of integrating genetic origin into the explanation of life chances. Omitting the genetic part of intergenerational transmission neglects an integral part of the explanation of life chances because genetic differences between individuals do not only add to environmental influences but also co-vary and interact with such social (environmental) influences in manifold ways. Consequently, the consideration of genetic influences by no means negates social influences on advantage or disadvantage.

Our research group brings together internationally leading experts from various disciplines (psychology, sociology, biology, genetics, medicine, economics, philosophy, and political sciences). Together, we study theoretical models and methodological approaches that can help understand influences and interactions of nature- and nurture-factors. A second focus of our group will be the psychological, biological, and societal processes mediating between genes and life chances. Finally, our group is concerned with ethical-normative and socio-political implications of research results in the area of genetic influences and their connection with societal conditions.

The research group closely collaborates with the DFG-funded TwinLife project.