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Heritability vs. Inheritable — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Fiza Rafique — Updated on March 28, 2024
Heritability measures genetic contribution to traits' variation, while inheritable describes traits passed from parents to offspring.
Heritability vs. Inheritable — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Heritability and Inheritable


Key Differences

Heritability is a statistical concept that quantifies the proportion of observed variation in a particular trait among individuals in a population that can be attributed to genetic differences. It does not apply to an individual but rather to variations within a group. Inheritable, on the other hand, refers to any trait or characteristic that can be passed down from one generation to the next through genes. It's a broader term that includes anything that can be inherited, not just traits subject to genetic variation.
While heritability is a measure used primarily in the field of genetics and is particularly important in studies of human behavior, animal breeding, and plant cultivation, indicating how much of the variation in a trait can be attributed to genetic factors, inheritable traits include both genetic characteristics and other hereditary factors. These could range from genetic disorders to physical characteristics and even some social and cultural attributes that are passed down through family lines.
Heritability estimates do not provide information about how a trait can be passed from parent to offspring, nor do they indicate the degree to which an individual's traits are determined by genetics versus environment. Instead, they offer insights into the relative contributions of genetics and environment to the variation of traits in a population. Inheritable traits, however, are specifically those aspects of an organism that are directly transmitted from parents to their offspring, potentially including both genetic and non-genetic elements, such as cultural heritage or family traditions.
The concept of heritability is often misunderstood; a high heritability does not mean that environment has little effect on the development of a trait, nor does it imply that the trait cannot be changed. It simply means that within the studied population, a larger portion of the variation of the trait is due to genetic differences. Inheritable traits, while directly passed down from parents to offspring, can also be influenced by external factors. For example, a child might inherit a predisposition to a certain condition, but environmental factors such as diet and exercise can influence whether or not the condition manifests.
Understanding heritability is crucial for genetic research and breeding programs, as it helps scientists and breeders determine which traits are most likely to be passed down and how they can be selected for or against. On the other hand, understanding which traits are inheritable is important not only for genetic counseling and predicting health risks but also for appreciating the role of genetics in shaping individual and familial identities. Both concepts are integral to genetics, but they address different aspects of how traits are transmitted and expressed across generations.

Comparison Chart


The proportion of trait variation due to genetics within a population.
Traits that can be passed from parents to offspring.


Population-level measure.
Individual-level inheritance.


Used in genetics research and breeding programs.
Applies to genetic counseling and understanding personal health risks.


High heritability does not mean environment is not influential.
Inheritable traits can be influenced by external factors.


On variation in a trait due to genetics.
On the ability of a trait to be transmitted genetically.

Compare with Definitions


Genetic Variation.
A trait's heritability can indicate potential for selective breeding in animals.


Health Implications.
Knowing which conditions are inheritable helps in predicting health risks.


Specific to Traits.
The heritability of eye color is high, indicating strong genetic influence.


Influenced by Environment.
An inheritable predisposition to obesity can be mitigated with lifestyle choices.


Population Measure.
Heritability helps researchers understand how much genetics contribute to differences in height among people.


Direct Transmission.
Brown eyes are inheritable, often passed from parents to their children.


Research Application.
Heritability estimates are crucial for identifying genes associated with diseases.


Cultural and Genetic.
Language skills are inheritable, influenced by the family and environment.


Misunderstood Concept.
Despite its high heritability, intelligence is influenced by both genetics and environment.


Broadly Applied.
Inheritable traits can include genetic disorders, physical features, and even some behaviors.


Heritability is a statistic used in the fields of breeding and genetics that estimates the degree of variation in a phenotypic trait in a population that is due to genetic variation between individuals in that population. It measures how much of the variation of a trait can be attributed to variation of genetic factors, as opposed to variation of environmental factors.


Capable of being inherited
Inheritable property
These characteristics are inheritable


Capability of being passed down from one generation to another
The heritability of aristocratic titles.


Capable of being inherited
Inheritable traits.
Inheritable property.


The proportion of observed variance in a trait within a given population that results from genetic rather than environmental factors.


Having the right to inherit or the capability of inheriting
An inheritable heir.


(uncountable) The condition of being inheritable


That can be inherited.
An inheritable estate or title
An inheritable disease


The ratio of the genetic variance of a population to its phenotypic variance; i.e. the proportion of variability that is genetic in origin


Capable of taking by inheritance, or of receiving by descent; capable of succeeding to, as an heir.


The state of being heritable.


Capable of being inherited; transmissible or descendible; as, an inheritable estate or title.


Capable of being transmitted from parent to child; as, inheritable qualities or infirmities.


That can be inherited;
Inheritable traits such as eye color
An inheritable title

Common Curiosities

How is heritability calculated?

Heritability is calculated using statistical methods that compare the variation of traits within a population to the genetic variation within that population.

Can a trait with high heritability be influenced by the environment?

Yes, even traits with high heritability can be significantly influenced by environmental factors.

What does inheritable mean?

Inheritable refers to traits or characteristics that can be passed down from parents to their offspring through genes.

How does knowing if a trait is inheritable benefit individuals?

Knowing if a trait is inheritable can help individuals understand their risk for certain conditions and take preventative actions.

Can an inheritable trait be prevented from manifesting?

Yes, in some cases, lifestyle choices and interventions can prevent or mitigate the manifestation of inheritable traits.

Can heritability help with disease prevention?

Understanding heritability can help in identifying genetic risk factors, but prevention also involves understanding environmental and lifestyle influences.

Is heritability important for breeding programs?

Yes, heritability is a key factor in breeding programs as it helps breeders select for desirable traits that are strongly influenced by genetics.

Can environmental factors change a trait's heritability?

Environmental changes can affect the relative influence of genetics and environment on a trait, potentially altering its heritability.

Are psychological traits heritable?

Many psychological traits have a heritable component, meaning that genetic factors contribute to variations in these traits among individuals.

Are all inheritable traits genetic?

While most inheritable traits are genetic, some can involve non-genetic hereditary elements, such as cultural practices.

Is heritability the same across different populations?

No, heritability can vary between populations due to differences in genetic and environmental factors.

What is an example of a non-genetic inheritable trait?

Cultural traditions and languages are examples of non-genetic traits that can be passed down through families.

What is heritability?

Heritability is a measure of how much of the variation in a trait within a population is due to genetic differences.

Does high heritability mean a trait is not changeable?

No, high heritability simply indicates that genetic factors play a larger role in the trait's variation within a specific population; it doesn't imply the trait cannot be changed.

How do heritability and inheritable traits relate to personal identity?

Both concepts contribute to understanding how genetics and family history shape individual characteristics and susceptibilities, forming part of one's personal and familial identity.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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