The Anthill

Anthill 29: Inheritance

What do we pass onto the next generation when we’re gone? In this episode of The Anthill podcast we bring you three stories from academics who study aspects of inheritance – from inherited wealth, to the natural inheritance we leave our children, and the genetic inheritance held within our DNA.

The way countries tax inherited wealth varies widely across the world. In the UK, inheritance tax is 40% on everything above a £375,000 threshold (for properties the threshold rises to £1m), yet it doesn’t exist in Australia and Canada and works differently in France and Scandinavia. In this episode, Janette Rutterford, professor of financial management at Open University, tracks the history of inheritance tax in the UK – and the loopholes people use to get around paying it. And we ask Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder professor of geography at the University of Oxford whether inheritance tax is fit for purpose – and what could replace it.


Click here to listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes including Twins, Intuition, and Confidence. And browse other podcasts from The Conversation here.


In the second segment, we focus on natural inheritance. Mass extinctions of species mean that the wildlife our ancestors grew up with is vanishing and it may mean future generations are left with a smaller and emptier view of nature. Scientists believe our perception of nature and wilderness is shrinking, with each new generation inheriting a smaller picture of what a healthy ecosystem looks like. We ask biologists Lizzie Jones from Royal Holloway University and Chris Sandom from the University of Sussex to help explain the concept of this “shifting baseline syndrome”. And Newcastle University’s Niki Rust talks through one of the options for dealing with it – rewilding, and what happened to lions she observed who had been reintroduced into reserves in Africa.

Sandom and Jones have also written an accompanying article for The Conversation, showcasing drawings by young people of alternative visions for nature’s future – and graphic imaginings by the artist Daniel Locke on what Britain would have looked like hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Britain 125,000 years ago: giant deer, straight-tusked elephants and rhinos. Daniel Locke, Author provided

In the final segment of this episode we delve into the debate on genes and intelligence – and whether children’s success at school depends on their DNA. Kaili Rimfeld, a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London, explains her new study – which you can read about on The Conversation – which showed that genes influence how well children do throughout their time at school. She explains how twins studies have helped scientists to understand the “heritability” of intelligence, as well as new tools, which are helping give more personalised predictions for educational achievement.

But some social scientists, including as Daphne Martschenko, a PhD researcher in education at the University of Cambridge, are concerned about the ethical implications of this line of research. She recounts the controversial history of research linking genes and intelligence – which she’s just written a new paper about – and why she’s concerned about how such research might trickle down into the classroom in future.

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The Anthill theme music is by Alex Grey for Melody Loops. Music in the inheritance tax segment A list of ways to die by Lee Rosevere and Bazaar by A.A.Alto, both from the Free Music Archive. Bird sounds in the shifting baseline segment is Nightingales by reinsamba and music is Nature Kid by Podington Bear via Free Music Archive. Music in the genes and intelligence segment is Hidden Agenda by Kevin MacLeod via Incompetech and Curtains Are Always Drawn by Kai Engel. Archive audio on the Human Genome Project from the US Department of Health & Human Services.

Thank you to City, University of London’s Department of Journalism for letting us use their studios to record The Anthill. And to Anouk Millet who helped with editing and production for this episode.

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