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Genes May Influence Happiness on Job, Study Suggests

April 24, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Hate your job? Love your job? Part of the reason may be your genes, a study suggests.

By studying identical twins who grew up in different families, researchers found evidence that genes influence a worker’s satisfaction with his job.

That may be part of the reason some people seem happy no matter what they do, while others have trouble finding a satisfying job, said industrial psychologist Richard Arvey.

The findings do not suggest that people who dislike their jobs are genetically doomed to unhappiness at work. The apparent genetic impact is quite modest, and like other genetic influences it may be modifiable by environment, Arvey said in a recent telephone interview.

The study is presented in this month’s issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology by Arvey, a professor at the Industrial Relations Center of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and university colleagues Lauren Abraham, Thomas Bouchard Jr., and Nancy Segal.

Arvey said the study does not prove genetic influence over job satisfaction, but only supports the idea. He also noted that the study was small, and urged caution in applying the results to the general population.

Two scientists who have studied genetic influence on personality commented that the new findings fit in with previous research. John Loehlin of the University of Texas at Austin said other research suggests genetic influence on personality and temperament, and an effect on job satisfaction appears plausible.

Richard Rose of Indiana University in Bloomington said Finnish studies of twins have found evidence that genes may influence a person’s job choice, satisfaction with life, and frequency of changing jobs for such reasons as dissatisfaction or being fired.

But psychologist Leon Kamin of Northeastern University, who has analyzed nature-vs.-nurture research, said Monday he was skeptical.

The reason for studying identical twins reared apart is that since twins in a pair share identical genes, but grow up in different environments, some similarities between them may reflect genetic influence.

But Kamin said previous studies showed twins reared apart tend to grow up in similar family environments, which he said could explain such similarities as degree of job satisfaction.

The new study focused on 34 pairs of identical twins who had been separated at an average age of less than 6 months. They were not reunited until about age 32, on average. Twenty-five pairs were women.

Each twin completed a 20-item questionnaire about satisfaction with the ″major job″ in his or her life. Arvey said the job list was diverse, including research chemist, coal miner, assembly line worker, computer analyst, machinist, nurse and financial planner. Seventeen women said being a housewife was their major job.

Comparing jobs held by each member of twin pairs, researchers found evidence that twins tended to hold jobs with similar degrees of mental complexity, physical demands and physical coordination requirements.

That finding supports the idea that genes also affect what jobs people seek, researchers said. But analysis showed it does not explain the apparent genetic influence on job satisfaction.

Arvey said there are several possible ways genes could influence happiness in the workplace. Affecting personality is a ″very likely mechanism,″ he said.

Alternatively, genes may influence what people pay attention to in their job environment, such as supervision, he said, or they may affect what people want out of a job.

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