Johan Almenberg, Annamaria Lusardi, Jenny Säve-Söderbergh, Roine Vestman, 27 October 2018

Household indebtedness is high in many countries, and continues to rise. This column uses data from Sweden to argue that evolving attitudes toward debt may help explain the observed increase. Individuals who report being comfortable with debt have considerably more of it, and they are more likely to have parents who were also comfortable with debt. For others, discomfort with debt may act as a self-imposed borrowing constraint. 

Eugenio Proto, Aldo Rustichini, Andis Sofianos, 19 January 2018

Three attributes are often suggested to generate cooperative behaviour – a good heart, good norms, and intelligence. This column reports the results of a laboratory experiment in which groups of players benefited from learning to cooperate. It finds overwhelming support for the idea that intelligence is the primary condition for a socially cohesive, cooperative society. Warm feelings towards others and good norms have only a small and transitory effect.

Benjamin Enke, 21 September 2017

Daily life requires us to cooperate with a large number of – potentially unrelated – people. This column argues that cultural variation in the ways people cooperate with each other are empirically associated with fundamentally different religious beliefs, moral values, emotions of shame and guilt, social norms, and institutions. This suggests that various psychological, biological, and institutional mechanisms co-evolved to support specific social cooperation systems.

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg, 27 June 2015

Cultural transmission occurs both vertically – from one generation to the next – and, increasingly in modern times, horizontally – within generations and across populations. Using novel data for 74 countries, this column explores how genetic relatedness between populations affects the transmission of cultural traits. A pattern of positive and significant relationships is found between genetic distance and various measures of cultural distance, including language, religion, values, and norms. This implies that populations that are ancestrally closer face lower barriers to learning new ideas and behaviours from each other.

Jean Tirole, Roland Bénabou, 21 November 2011

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.

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