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Witchcraft beliefs and the erosion of social capital: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond

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  • Gershman, Boris

Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between witchcraft beliefs, a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon, and various elements of social capital. Using novel survey data from nineteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa we establish a robust negative association between the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs and multiple measures of trust which holds after accounting for country fixed effects and potential confounding factors at the individual, regional, and ethnic-group levels. This finding extends to other metrics of social capital, namely charitable giving and participation in religious group activities. Such coexistence of witchcraft beliefs and antisocial attitudes stands in stark contrast to a well-explored alternative cultural equilibrium characterized by religious prosociality. Evidence from societies beyond Africa shows that in preindustrial communities where witchcraft is believed to be an important cause of illness, mistrust and other antisocial traits are inculcated since childhood. Furthermore, second-generation immigrants in Europe originating from countries with widespread witchcraft beliefs are generally less trusting.

Suggested Citation

  • Gershman, Boris, 2016. "Witchcraft beliefs and the erosion of social capital: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 182-208.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:deveco:v:120:y:2016:i:c:p:182-208
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jdeveco.2015.11.005
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    7. Kohnert, Dirk, 1996. "Magic and witchcraft: Implications for democratization and poverty-alleviating aid in Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 24(8), pages 1347-1355, August.
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    1. repec:eee:deveco:v:131:y:2018:i:c:p:123-131 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:gam:jagris:v:9:y:2019:i:3:p:45-:d:210837 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Elena Briones Alonso & Lara Cockx & Johan Swinnen, 2017. "Culture and Food Security," LICOS Discussion Papers 39817, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
    4. repec:aea:aecrev:v:107:y:2017:i:5:p:582-87 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Nathan Nunn & Raul Sanchez de la Sierra, 2017. "Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 582-587, May.
    6. Di Falco, Salvatore & Feri, Francesco & Pin, Paolo & Vollenweider, Xavier, 2018. "Ties that bind: Network redistributive pressure and economic decisions in village economies," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 123-131.
    7. Auriol, Emmanuelle & Lassebie, Julie & Panin, Amma & Raiber, Eva & Seabright, Paul, 2017. "God insures those who pay?Formal insurance and religious offerings in Ghana," TSE Working Papers 17-831, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Culture; Persistence; Social capital; Superstition; Trust; Witchcraft;

    JEL classification:

    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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