Knack for saving may be in the genes

DNA strands from a double helix model


Steve Chiotakis: Maybe we can blame the financial fallout on our genes. There's a new study out today that links -- if in a small way -- our genetic make-up to the amount of risk we're willing to take with our savings. From the Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio, here's Marketplace's Janet Babin.

Janet Babin: Dopamine and seratonin are brain chemicals that play a role in behaviors, like addiction or how neurotic we are. According to the study, two genes that regulate these chemicals are culprits in our economic behavior.

Northwestern University professor Camelia Kuhnen gave students money to make 96 investment choices. Then she took some of their saliva to get their DNA. Students who carried specific varieties of the genes made risky investments 25 percent more of the time than those without them.

But Kuhnen says her study didn't take into account how we grow up:

Camelia Kuhnen: Only 30 percent of variation in risk-taking behavior is due to our genes. The rest of 70 percent comes from other things, like your life experience, your cultural background, your education.

The risk-taking variants that Kuhnen identified are also also linked to how much our ancestors moved around. The farther they traveled, the more likely you are to make financial risks choices.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.


I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...

Sustainability Coverage

  • The Kendeda Fund
  • Wealth & Poverty Coverage

  • The Ford Foundation