Working Paper

The heritability of economic preferences

Published: 2023

Our study explores a key question about why people make different economic choices, especially when dealing with risk and delayed rewards. Why do some people prefer taking risks, like starting a business, while others prefer secure jobs? Why do some spend their money now rather than saving for the future? We want to know if these choices are influenced more by a person’s surroundings or their genetic makeup. Understanding this can help us see how these varied preferences might lead to different life results, such as wealth or poverty.

Our research shows that the way people handle risk and how they value the present versus the future are more influenced by their own experiences in society than by their genes or how they were raised. We found that personal experiences unique to each individual play the biggest role in shaping these preferences. In fact, when it comes to how much value people place on immediate rewards over future ones, genetics don’t seem to play any role at all. Interestingly, our study also found that genetics have a stronger influence on how people perceive risk than previously thought.

People’s attitudes towards time and future rewards seem to be more changeable and influenced by their experiences than their attitudes towards risk. This is a key point for making policies. When we looked at other studies, especially those involving twins, we noticed that the environment that twins share, like their home life, didn’t seem to have much effect on their personal preferences. This made us wonder if the home environment and parenting really make a difference. But, when we used more complex models in our study, we found that the shared home environment actually does have an impact. It affects risk preferences by about 15% and time preferences by 33%, which is much more than what was previously thought. Particularly noteworthy is that the home environment influences attitudes towards time and future rewards twice as much as it does towards risk. This finding gives us new insights for policy-making and parenting.


Centre Member

Agnieszka Tymula
Hong Il Yoo

Centre Friend

Nathan Kettlewell


Kettlewell, N., Tymula, A., & Yoo, H.I. (2023). The heritability of economic preferences. Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2023-28. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland. DOI: