Is there an entrepreneur gene?

Photograph by Lewis Hine (1910).
A Newsboy. Photograph by Lewis Hine (1910)

There are stories how people with ADHD, like Richard Branson, achieve amazing success in entrepreneurship or in other fields as they have managed to leverage their strengths in the right way and in the right career. Might some of the ADHD-related genes also link with working in an enterprising positions like sales, management, journalism?

Indeed, we found that one potential ADHD gene, encoding the enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) that has two different variant forms (Val variant and Met variant) is associated with working in an enterprising position among the parents of the ECPBHS sample [1]. Men, who inherited the Val variant of that gene from both parents, were more often in professions considered enterprising and were more satisfied with their job than other men. In addition, individuals, who inherited the Val variant from at least one of their parents, reported themselves more frequently as in a managerial position.

However, this single gene effect on our career choice should not be considered big and there are other factors that associate with our career choices. For example, it is conceivable that people select jobs appropriate for their personalities [2], and entrepreneurship is a more convenient occupation for some personalities than for others [3; 4]. We found subjects working in an enterprising position having higher scores of extraversion although there were no associations between observed gene and extraversion, indicating that extraversion and the observed gene independently contributed to entrepreneurship.

Individuals, who worked in an enterprising position or as a manager also perceived that they had more supportive relations with parents in their childhood. Interestingly, while perceived supportive relations with their mother were more important for men, support from the father in their childhood was more crucial for women. More support from family also helps to obtain higher education that was associated with working in an enterprising position or being a manager, as education increases entrepreneurship because of the higher self-confidence, lower perceived risk and enhanced human capital [5].

However, it is also the context that regulates who decides to start a new company, what kind of company they will start and how aggressively they will pursue growth and with what outcomes [6]. Therefore, our results might not be easily repeatable in all other samples as subjects of our sample of middle-aged men and women who live in Estonia mostly built their careers after the collapse of the Soviet Union and following systematic transition to an entrepreneurial economy. In such new market economies, market entry barriers and competition were low, therefore it was easier to establish and run imitative (as opposed to innovative) businesses [7].

To sum it up, although we found that working in an enterprising position or as a manager is associated with Val-variant of COMT gene, it is good to remember that beside genes we are also influenced by environment.

More information about the study discussed here can be found at the following link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886917303240

Triin Kurrikoff, Health Sociology Analyst in the University of Tartu, Estonia, member of CoCA project.

Katre Sakala, ECPBHS project manager in the University of Tartu, Estonia, member of CoCA project.

 

References:

[1] ECPBHS – The Estonian Children Personality Behavior and Health Study started already in 1998 and is a longitudinal multidisciplinary study. The participants of the study were 9 and 15 years old at that time and by now they have participated in four study waves. The sample of parents of ECPBHS included more than 1000 middle-aged individuals, both men and women. The main focus of ECPBHS is health and lifestyle.

[2] Kristof, A. L. Person–organization fit: An integrative review of it conceptualizations, measurement, and implications. Pers Psychol, 49, 1–49 (1996).

[3] Baron, R., & Markman, G. (2004). Toward a process view of entrepreneurship: The changing impact of individual level variables across phases of new venture development. In M. Rahim, R. Colembiewski, & K. Mackenzie (Eds.), Current topics in management. Vol. 9. (pp. 45–64). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

[4] Zhao, H., Seibert, S. E., & Lumpkin, G. T. The relationship of personality to entrepreneurial intentions and performance: A meta-analytic review. J Manage, 36, 381–404 (2010).

[5] Jiménez, A., Palmero-Cámara, C., González-Santos, M.J., González-Bernal, J., Jiménez-Eguizábal, J.A. The impact of education levels on formal and informal entrepreneurship. BRQ-Bus Res Q, 18, 204-212 (2015).

[6] Acs, Z.J., Audretsch, D.B., Lehmann E.E. & Licht G. National Systems of Entrepreneurship. Small Bus Econ: 16, 527–535 (2016).

[7] Earle, J. & Sakova, Z. Business start-ups or disguised unemployment? Evidence on the character of self employment from transition economies. Labour Econ, 7, 575–601 (2000).

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