When we try to understand why some people have difficulties managing their financial resources, we are tempted to blame high interest rates and intemperate spending. Researchers found, however, a possible new culprit – a gene that appears to be related to debt management.
Previous research has shown that genetic factors influence the way we manage our financial resources, but a recent study has proven for the first time the role of certain genes in financial behavior. Researchers at the University of California in San Diego and the London School of Economics studied the genetic data and surveys of more than 2,000 young people aged between 18 and 26 years. The researchers considered only those young people who admitted they have a credit card, tracking their version of the MAOA gene. MAOA or Monoamine oxidase A is an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of neurotransmitters (chemicals involved in transmitting nerve impulses) in the brain. Previous research has shown a correlation between less effective versions of MAOA gene – those that result in low production of MAOA on brain cells – and impulsivity.
New research has shown that people with one “less effective” and one “effective” MAOA gene had 7.8% more often credit card debt than those with two “effective” genes, even when researchers took into control variables such as education and socioeconomic status. Percentage of people with two “less effective” genes was even higher – 15.9%.
The researchers were impressed by the magnitude of the differences. “The effect is almost as significant as financial literacy, a person’s ability to understand complex financial information”, said Jan-Emmanuel de Neve, one of the authors of the study.
De Neve warns that, at the individual level, the version of the MAOA gene is not a predictor of financial behavior. The influence that this gene has on the financial liabilities is the same as other genes have on breast cancer: a certain version of the gene increases the risk, but many other genetic or environmental variables are also important.