Childhood Autism and Assortative Mating

Hays Golden:

Diagnosed rates of autism spectrum disorders have grown tremendously over the last few decades. I find that assortative mating may have meaningfully contributed to the rise. I develop a general model of genes and assortative mating which shows that small changes in sorting could have large impacts on the extremes of genetic distributions. I apply my theory to autism, which I model as the extreme right tail of a genetic formal thinking ability distribution (systemizing). Using large sample data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I find strong support for theories that autism is connected to systemizing. My mating model shows that increases in the returns to systemizing, particularly for women, can contribute signi ficantly to rising autism rates. I provide evidence that mating on systemizing has actually shifted, and conclude with a rough calculation suggesting that despite the increase in autism, increased sorting on systemizing has been socially bene ficial.