Integrating genetics and social science: Genetic risk scores

Daniel W. Belsky*, Salomon Israel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


The sequencing of the human genome and the advent of low-cost genome-wide assays that generate millions of observations of individual genomes in a matter of hours constitute a disruptive innovation for social science. Many public use social science datasets have or will soon add genome-wide genetic data. With these new data come technical challenges, but also new possibilities. Among these, the lowest-hanging fruit and the most potentially disruptive to existing research programs is the ability to measure previously invisible contours of health and disease risk within populations. In this article, we outline why now is the time for social scientists to bring genetics into their research programs. We discuss how to select genetic variants to study. We explain how the polygenic architecture of complex traits and the low penetrance of individual genetic loci pose challenges to research integrating genetics and social science. We introduce genetic risk scores as a method of addressing these challenges and provide guidance on how genetic risk scores can be constructed. We conclude by outlining research questions that are ripe for social science inquiry.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)137-155
Number of pages19
JournalBiodemography and Social Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2014 Society for Biodemography and Social Biology.


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