Francesco Giavazzi, Ivan Petkov, Fabio Schiantarelli16 June 2014
The persistence of cultural attitudes is an important determinant of the success of institutional reforms, and of the impact of immigration on a country’s culture. This column presents evidence from a study of European immigrants to the US. Some cultural traits – such as deep religious values – are highly persistent, whereas others – such as attitudes towards cooperation and redistribution – change more quickly. Many cultural attitudes evolve significantly between the second and fourth generations, and the persistence of different attitudes varies across countries of origin.
Thomas Dohmen, Armin Falk , David Huffman , Uwe Sunde
Are a person’s values and beliefs persistent, or do they evolve – possibly rather quickly – in response to the economic and institutional environment? This is a central question, for instance, if one is interested in assessing the likelihood of success of reforms that change rules within a country. Are such reforms doomed because a country’s culture cannot be changed, or can they succeed because they can change cultural attitudes by altering incentives, and if so, over what time horizon?
Social norms have been shown to have important effects on economic outcomes. This column discusses new evidence showing that social norms are deeply rooted in long-standing cultures, but do evolve in reaction to major changes. It draws on a fully global sample involving migrants in more than 130 countries, using seven waves of the Gallup World Poll.
Thomas Dohmen, Armin Falk , David Huffman , Uwe Sunde
Recent studies find that individuals’ social norms – as evidenced by their opinions and behaviour – can be transmitted from one generation to the next within the same cultural setting (Algan and Cahuc 2010, Bjørnskov 2012, Dohmen et al. 2012, Guiso et al. 2006, Rainer and Siedler 2009, Rice and Feldman 1997). Studies also find that the current environment – such as institutions – plays an important role in shaping an individual’s social norms (Dinesen 2012, Nannestad et al. 2014, Alesina and La Ferrara 2002, Bjørnskov 2007, Glaeser et al. 2000, Helliwell and Wang 2011, Kosfeld et al.
National institutions and subnational development in Africa
Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou11 October 2013
During the ‘Scramble for Africa,’ the arbitrary design of colonial borders partitioned many ethnicities across two or more contemporary African states. This column presents recent research that exploits this quasi-experiment to study the effect of institutions on development. The overall effect of institutions is insignificant; but this masks considerable heterogeneity driven by diminishing government influence in remote areas. These findings conflict with previous cross-country work in economics, but support arguments put forward by the African historiography.
Few issues have received more inquiry in the social sciences than "what are the fundamental determinants of comparative development?" The institutional view asserts that the ultimate causes of underdevelopment are poorly performing institutional structures, such as lack of constraints on the executive, poor property-rights protection, as well as inefficient legal and court systems (see Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson 2005 for a review and Acemoglu and Robinson 2012 for an influential popular argument).
There is now widespread agreement that ‘deep’ history matters for comparative development. Recent research has shown that ancestry – the transmission of genetic and cultural traits across generations – matters more than the history of geographic regions. This column argues that long-term divergences in inherited traits can create barriers to the diffusion of technology. The greater a population’s genetic distance to the population on the technological frontier, the lower its relative income will be. Development policies should aim at reducing barriers to exchange and communication.
Jeffrey V. Butler, Paola Giuliano, Luigi Guiso18 December 2012
Trust among strangers is at the heart of well-functioning market economics. This column argues that individual trust beliefs are related to individual trustworthiness, which in turn is related to the values parents transmit to their children. It adds that if someone forms trust beliefs about unknown people by attributing to others his own trustworthiness, he is bound to make mistakes by being either too naïve or too wary.
Every day millions of people deal with others they know nothing or very little about. A Norwegian tourist buys a carpet in Casablanca. A woman in Mexico City hails a cab on the street. A person with a never-before-experienced eye pain asks an ophthalmologist for advice. In each case, individuals must form a belief about the reliability of a counterparty to decide whether to deal with this person at all.
How do individuals form beliefs about how others will behave in the absence of prior interaction? And do these initial beliefs persist in the face of evidence?
Does language shape our economy? Female/male grammatical distinctions and gender economics
Victor Gay, Estefania Santacreu-Vasut, Amir Shoham29 August 2012
Gender discrimination varies vastly across nations – an outcome that most would ascribe at least partly to culture. If culture is transmitted via language, as Douglas North asserts, grammar difference should line up with gender discrimination. This column presents new empirical evidence that gender distinctions in language are strongly correlated with female labour-force participation and the use of gender political quotas.
In his Nobel Prize lecture, Douglas North (1993) argued that cultural knowledge is transmitted via language. Yet, language may be more than a vehicle of transmission, as the linguist Benjamin L Whorf hypothesised (1956):
“We are inclined to think of language simply as a technique of expression, and not to realise that language first of all is a classification and arrangement of the stream of sensory experience which results in a certain world-order, a certain segment of the world that is easily expressible by the type of symbolic means that language employs.”
Why do many oppose the selling of human organs if, as economists argue, this would increase supply? Economists see material incentives as key to changing behaviour – and are puzzled if incentives don’t work as expected. For psychologists, social norms explain such behaviour; legal scholars say law can shape society’s norms. CEPR DP8663 tries to reconcile these disparate insights with a unifying theory that could explain puzzles such the aversion to organ-selling as well as why so many people resist economists’ advice.
There are nearly 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage sites. These sites benefit hugely from tourism, so suspicions of fixing the judges’ verdicts are rife. This column suggests a novel way to get rid of the politicisation: random selection.
The UNESCO World Heritage sites have become major attractions for cultural tourism and are icons of national identity. Being put on the UNESCO World Heritage List comes with considerable media coverage – and naturally governments invest substantial time and effort in order to gain an entry. At present, the list comprises 936 sites – 725 of them cultural, 183 natural, and 28 mixed properties in 153 of the 186 State Parties who ratified the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Why do levels of female participation in the labour force vary so extremely around the world? The authors of CEPR DP8418 test the hypothesis that cultural notions of 'a woman's place' originated with agricultural practices. They find evidence that the division of labour associated with plough agriculture contributed to development of norms that confined women to the home. These norms appear to persist through generations.
The geography of hate: How anti-Semitism in interwar Germany was influenced by the medieval mass murder of Jews
Nico Voigtländer, Hans-Joachim Voth22 May 2011
Is violence a cultural trait passed from one generation to the next? This column examines an extreme case – anti-Semitism in Germany. It shows that towns that murdered their Jews during the Black Death (1348-1350) were also much more likely to commit violence or engage in anti-Semitic acts in interwar Germany, nearly 600 years later. This suggests racial hatred can persist over centuries.
What causes some people to engage in hate crime, while others remain aloof? Scholars have examined the role of ignorance and political incentives in the formation of groups dominated by hatred (Glaeser 2005). What has remained underexplored is the extent to which cultural transmission predisposes people to act violently, in a fashion similar to that of their ancestors.