Do Genes Determine Entrepreneurial Success?

The impact of genes on our life choices and outcomes is controversial – but that doesn’t stop it being fascinating. If it turned out that our genes contributed heavily to entrepreneurial success I, for one, would really want to know. The public policy implications for how to encourage entrepreneurship and even whether to redistribute more through taxation would be enormous. Although I would prefer a world in which entrepreneurs were made, not born, it’s better to know how the world works rather than how we want it to work, reports Forbes.

Luckily, for idealists like me, current research suggests the role of genetics in likelihood and success for entrepreneurship isn’t too strong. I don’t know this by trawling through the academic literature, but by going to the source of much of that thinking: Nicos Nicolaou, Professor and the GE Capital Chair of Mid-Market Economics at Warwick Business School, who is a world-leading expert on this subject.

Philip Salter: What’s the state of the academic literature on genetics and entrepreneurship?

Nicos Nicolaou: Research has shown that genetic factors affect both the tendency to recognize entrepreneurial opportunities and the tendency to start businesses. Studies have used large samples of identical and fraternal twins to disentangle the role of genes and environment in entrepreneurship. Identical twins share all of their genes while fraternal twins share, on average, half of their segregating genes. As a result, greater twin concordances – the probability that a twin is an entrepreneur given that its co-twin is also an entrepreneur – for entrepreneurship between pairs of identical than between pairs of fraternal twins can only be attributed to genetic factors.

The heritability estimates for entrepreneurship are around 30-35%. This actually means that environmental factors are actually much more important than genetic factors in recognizing entrepreneurial opportunities and starting new businesses.

Salter: To what extent is the decision to become an entrepreneur impacted by an individual’s genetics?

Nicolaou: Although genetic factors account for some of the variance in entrepreneurship it is only through interaction with environmental factors that any genetic influence is manifested.

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