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Subjective well-being: genetic and environmental contributions to stability and change

  • R. B. NES (a1), E. Røysamb (a1) (a2), K. TAMBS (a1), J. R. HARRIS (a3) and T. REICHBORN-KJENNERUD (a1) (a4)...

Background. Previous cross-sectional studies have found substantial genetic influences on individual variation in subjective well-being (SWB), and evidence for sex-specific genetic effects has been reported. However, the genetic and environmental influences on stability and change in SWB over time are largely unexplored.

Method. Questionnaire data on SWB from a population-based sample of Norwegian twins born 1967 to 1979, initially surveyed in 1992 (T1) and re-surveyed in 1998 (T2), were analysed using structural equation modelling to explore the relative effects of genetic and environmental influences on phenotypic stability and change.

Results. The phenotypic cross-time correlations for SWB were 0·51 and 0·49 for males and females respectively. The best-fitting longitudinal model specified only additive genetic and individual environmental effects with qualitative and quantitative sex-specific genetic influences. For both males and females, the additive genetic factors influencing SWB were largely stable, although some time-specific genetic contributions were indicated. Cross-time correlations for genetic effects were 0·85 and 0·78 for males and females respectively. The individual environmental influences were primarily time-specific. Additive genetic effects explained approximately 80% of the phenotypic cross-time correlation. For females, the magnitude of the additive genetic effects decreased significantly from T1 to T2, whereas for males, the estimates generally remained unchanged.

Conclusions. For both males and females, long-term stability of SWB was mainly attributable to stable additive genetic factors, whereas susceptibility to change was mostly related to individual environmental factors. However, both stable environmental contributions and emerging genetic influences were indicated.

Corresponding author
Division of Mental Health, The Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Pb 4404 Nydalen, N-0403 Oslo, Norway. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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