Researchers found that kids' genes and their parents' education and wealth were big predictors of school success.
They analysed data from 5,000 children born in the U.K. between 1994 and 1996, including test results at key stages of their education and their parents' wealth and levels of education.
The results suggest that while genes have a significant effect on academic success, having wealthy, highly educated parents is even more important.
While 47% of kids with a high genetic propensity for education but poorer parents made it to university, the rate was 62% among those with a low genetic propensity but wealthier parents.
Kids with both a high genetic propensity and wealthy, well-educated parents had the greatest advantage – with 77% going to university. The rate was 21% among children who had both low genetic propensity and poorer families.
The findings, published recently in the journal Developmental Science, could help identify kids who are at greatest risk of poor educational outcomes, according to the study authors.
"Genetics and socioeconomic status capture the effects of both nature and nurture, and their influence is particularly dramatic for children at the extreme ends of distribution," said lead author Sophie von Stumm, professor of psychology in education at the University of York in the U.K.
"However, our study also highlights the potentially protective effect of a privileged background. Having a genetic makeup that makes you more inclined to education does make a child from a disadvantaged background more likely to go to university, but not as likely as a child with a lower genetic propensity from a more advantaged background," she added in a university news release.
von Stumm noted that the findings are observational and suggest that kids don't have equal opportunity in education because of their different genetics and family backgrounds.
"Where you come from has a huge impact on how well you do in school," she said in the release.