A chip off the old block? Lay understandings of inheritance among men and women in mid-life


Hunt K, Emslie C & Watt G (2003) A chip off the old block? Lay understandings of inheritance among men and women in mid-life. Public Understanding of Science, 12 (1), pp. 47-65.

Recent developments in molecular biology open up the possibility of being able to provide more precise genetic information to individuals. It is therefore important to examine lay understandings of the mechanisms of inheritance. Most studies to date have focused on the beliefs of families with single gene disorders. We explored lay understandings among respondents from "ordinary" families by conducting semi-structured interviews with 61 men and women subsampled from a large community-based study. Respondents found it easy to talk about inheritance within their own family context, given that discussions about inheritance form part of family culture. They constructed family narratives using artifacts such as family photographs, and they used phrases such as "double" and "spitting image" to emphasize likeness between relatives and to reinforce continuity across generations. However, respondents were more uncertain when asked to talk in more abstract terms about the mechanisms that underlie inheritance. There was some evidence to support the hypothesis that women are the 'kinkeepers' of the family. As scientific understandings of the "new genetics" proliferate, it is important to recognize that they do not simply fill a vacuum, but must fit into pre-existing social relationships and contexts.

Public Understanding of Science: Volume 12, Issue 1

Publication date31/12/2003