Grandchild’s IQ is associated with grandparental environments prior to the birth of the parents

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Background. In spite of convincing animal experiments demonstrating the potential for environmental exposures in one generation to have demonstrable effects generations later, there have been few relevant human studies. Those that have been undertaken have demonstrated associations, for example, between exposures such as nutrition and cigarette smoking in the grandparental generation and outcomes in grandchildren. We hypothesised that such transgenerational associations might be associated with the IQ of the grandchild, and that it would be likely that there would be differences in results between the sexes of the grandparents, parents and children.

Method. We used three-generational data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). We incorporated environmental factors concerning grandparents (F0) and focussed on three exposures that we hypothesised may have independent transgenerational associations with the IQ of the grandchildren (F2): (i) UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at grandparental birth year; (ii) whether grandfather smoked; and (iii) whether the grandmother smoked in the relevant pregnancy. Potential confounders were ages of grandparents when the relevant parent was born, ethnic background, education level and social class of each grandparent.

Results. After adjustment, all three target exposures had specific associations with measures of IQ in the grandchild. Paternal grandfather smoking was associated with reduced total IQ at 15 years; maternal grandfather smoking with reduced performance IQ at 8 years and reduced total IQ at 15. Paternal grandmother smoking in pregnancy was associated with reduced performance IQ at 8, especially in grandsons. GDP at grandparents’ birth produced independent associations of reduced IQ with higher GDP; this was particularly true of paternal grandmothers.

Conclusions. These results are complex, and need to be tested in other datasets. They highlight the need to consider possible transgenerational associations in studying developmental variation in populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number198
Number of pages15
JournalWellcome Open Research
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2020

Structured keywords

  • Bristol Population Health Science Institute


  • IQ
  • Cognition
  • Transgenerational effects
  • Grandmaternal smoking
  • Grandfather
  • GDP


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