Mates and marriage matter: genetic and environmental influences on subjective wellbeing across marital status

Ragnhild B Nes, Espen Røysamb, Jennifer R Harris, Nikolai Czajkowski, Kristian Tambs
Twin Research and Human Genetics: the Official Journal of the International Society for Twin Studies 2010, 13 (4): 312-21
Specific environments and social relationships may alter the impact of genes. Previous studies have shown marriage to moderate heritability for depressive symptoms in females, suggesting that marriage provides protection or compensation against genetic risks. Similar mechanisms may be relevant for subjective wellbeing (SWB), which is considerably influenced by genes and almost universally associated with marital status. Questionnaire data on SWB from a population-based sample of 1250 monozygotic (MZ) and 981 dizygotic (DZ) male and female twin pairs (n = 4462) were analyzed using structural equation modeling by means of Mx to investigate genetic and environmental influences on SWB across marital status. Resemblance for SWB in MZ twins exceeded that of DZ twins, but the magnitude of this difference varied across marital status. Genetic factors explained 51% and 54% of the variance in SWB among unmarried males and females, and 41% and 39% in married or cohabitating respondents. Remaining variance was attributable to the nonshared environment. The genetic influences were partly different (r(g) = 0.64) across marital status in females, but overlapping in married and single males. Our findings show that marriage moderates the magnitude of genetic influences on SWB in both males and females, with a smaller estimate of genetic influences for those with a marital or equivalent partner. The genetic influences on SWB are thus clearly contingent on the environmental context.

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