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Genes, Eyeglasses, and Social Policy (WP-10-09)

Charles F. Manski

Someone reading empirical research relating human genetics to personal outcomes must be careful to distinguish two types of work. An old literature on heritability decomposes cross-sectional variation in observed outcomes into unobservable genetic and environmental components. A new literature measures specific genes and uses them as observed covariates when predicting outcomes. Manski discusses these two types of work in terms of how they may inform social policy. He explains why research on heritability is fundamentally uninformative for policy analysis and cautiously argues that research using genes as covariates is potentially informative.

Charles F. Manski, Board of Trustees Professor of Economics, and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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