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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.

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  • 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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    3. Emmanuelle Auriol & Julie Lassébie & Amma Panin & Eva Raiber & Paul Seabright, 2020. "God Insures those Who Pay? Formal Insurance and Religious Offerings in Ghana," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 135(4), pages 1799-1848.
    4. Cheng Huang & Xiaojing Ma & Shiying Zhang & Qingguo Zhao, 2020. "Numerological preferences, timing of births and the long-term effect on schooling," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 33(2), pages 531-554, April.
    5. Yonas Jagisso & Jens Aune & Ayana Angassa, 2019. "Unlocking the Agricultural Potential of Manure in Agropastoral Systems: Traditional Beliefs Hindering Its Use in Southern Ethiopia," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(3), pages 1-17, March.
    6. Hodler, Roland & Srisuma, Sorawoot & Vesperoni, Alberto & Zurlinden, Noémie, 2020. "Measuring ethnic stratification and its effect on trust in Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 146(C).
    7. 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.
    8. Bai, Liang & Wu, Lingwei, 2020. "Political movement and trust formation: Evidence from the Cultural Revolution (1966–76)," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 122(C).
    9. Maxwell Mkondiwa, 2020. "Mancala board games and origins of entrepreneurship in Africa," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 15(10), pages 1-23, October.
    10. Peter T. Leeson & Jacob W. Russ, 2018. "Witch Trials," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 128(613), pages 2066-2105, August.
    11. Gershman, Boris, 2015. "The economic origins of the evil eye belief," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 119-144.
    12. Alidou, Sahawal & Verpoorten, Marijke, 2019. "Only women can whisper to gods: Voodoo, menopause and women’s autonomy," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 40-54.
    13. 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.
    14. Okoye, Dozie, 2021. "Things fall apart? Missions, institutions, and interpersonal trust," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C).
    15. Gershman, Boris, 2020. "Witchcraft beliefs as a cultural legacy of the Atlantic slave trade: Evidence from two continents," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 122(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Culture; Persistence; Social capital; Superstition; Trust; Witchcraft;
    All these keywords.

    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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