Do Your Genes Decide Your Job?

Job roles and work environments are designed with purpose.

We know that this is true.

Even in the language we use, an employee is said to “fill” a job role, or “fit” a work environment.

It would be easy to assume that’s the whole story.


But what if it were actually the other way around?

What if the characteristics of our job roles and work environments were already decided, before we’re even born?

It might sound like science fiction, but it’s actually very possible—at least to the extent that our genes dictate our personality traits.




Do your genes decide your job?

One way to answer this question is by looking at pairs of twins.

These analyses can get pretty complicated, but one of the most important comparisons is between two types of twins:

Monozygotic “identical twins” and dizygotic “fraternal twins.”


To the extent that “identical twins” have more similar jobs than otherwise comparable pairs of “fraternal twins,” we have to assume that the greater similarity is due to their genetic makeup.




A recent analysis, including more than 700 pairs of twins, found that genetics account for about 30% of the variation in work characteristics.

Work characteristics that were significantly affected:

  • How demanding
  • How complex
  • How much control


Even more interesting, these genetic effects accounted for most of the relationships between job characteristics and physical / mental wellbeing (between 55% and 77%).

It’s not just that certain people are born more likely to end up working at jobs with certain characteristics—it’s also that they end up more or less happy and healthy as a result.


The non-genetic job characteristic

There is one very important job characteristic that seems to have nothing to do with genetics: 

Social support.


Some people worked jobs that were very supportive. They had lots of help, people were there for them, or they felt a great sense of belonging.

Other people felt like they were on their own at work.


But none of these differences were tied to variations in genetics.

Perhaps people aren’t born with a preference for social support.


Or, perhaps it’s actually universal.

Social support is probably something that we all want—but only some of us are lucky enough to have it.




Image credits: Caroline Davis, Micah Baldwin, BobvdK

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