Journal Article

Does parental separation moderate the heritability of health risk behavior among adolescents?

Dierker, P., Kühn, M., Mönkediek, B.
Social Science and Medicine, 331:116070, 1–9 (2023)
Open Access


Social influences on adolescents’ health risk behavior are well documented, but little is known about the interaction of parental separation with genetic sensitivities. Using data from a German sample of 1762 twins, this study examines whether family living arrangements moderate the influence of genetic predispositions on health risk behavior. Derived from variance decomposition moderator models, three key findings emerge. Firstly, genetic contributions to drug use are significantly higher in single-mother families, indicating an amplified heritability potentially resulting from triggered genetic sensitivities or challenges in preventing genetic risks from unfolding. Secondly, unique environmental factors have a greater impact on drug use in single-mother families. Lastly, no heritability differences are found in smoking and excessive alcohol consumption between family types. These findings provide novel evidence of increased importance of genetic influences on drug use in single-mother families, shedding light on gene-environment interactions, and informing policy interventions that support vulnerable family arrangements.

Keywords: alcoholism, drug addiction, single persons, smoking, twins
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.