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Preferences as Human Capital: Rational Choice Theories of Endogenous Preferences and Socioeconomic Changes

  • Maria Saez-Marti


    (IEW University of Zurich)

  • Fabrizio Zilibotti

    (University of Zurich and CEPR)

We discuss the theoretical and empirical foundations of modern economic theories of cultural transmission. The importance of cultural factors in shaping economic and social transformations has been the focus of a long-standing debate in social sciences since the XIXth Century. Neoclassical economics has remained at the marging of this debate. However, there has been a recent surge of interest among economists for cultural factors. The economic models of cultural transmission borrow the main ideas from the anthropological literature, but endogeneize the efforts parents exert to transmit specific cultural variants or preference parameters. We distinguish between paternalistic models where parents use their own values to evaluate their children’s utility, and non-paternalistic or utilitarian models in which parents choose their children’s preferences to maximize the children’s well-being. We discuss recent examples, focusing in particular on corruption, patience, and work ethic.

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Article provided by Finnish Economic Association in its journal Finnish Economic Papers.

Volume (Year): 21 (2008)
Issue (Month): 2 (Autumn)
Pages: 81-94

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Handle: RePEc:fep:journl:v:21:y:2008:i:2:p:81-94
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  1. Raquel Fernandez & Alessandra Fogli, 2005. "Fertility: The Role of Culture and Family Experience," Working Papers 05-14, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
  2. Flavio Cunha & James Heckman, 2007. "The Technology of Skill Formation," NBER Working Papers 12840, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Sáez-Martı´, Maria & Zenou, Yves, 2012. "Cultural transmission and discrimination," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 137-146.
  4. James J. Heckman & Jora Stixrud & Sergio Urzua, 2006. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 411-482, July.
  5. Matthias Doepke & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2007. "Occupational Choice and the Spirit of Capitalism," NBER Working Papers 12917, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Hauk, Esther & Saez-Marti, Maria, 2002. "On the Cultural Transmission of Corruption," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 311-335, December.
  7. John M. Barron & Mark C. Berger & Dan A. Black, 2006. "Selective Counteroffers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 385-410, July.
  8. Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2009. "Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 531-596.
  9. Botticini, Maristella & Eckstein, Zvi, 2004. "Jewish Occupational Selection: Education, Restrictions, or Minorities?," IZA Discussion Papers 1224, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Nicholas, Tom, 1999. "Clogs to Clogs in Three Generations? Explaining Entrepreneurial Performance in Britain Since 1850," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(03), pages 688-713, September.
  11. Heckman, James J., 2000. "Policies to foster human capital," Research in Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 3-56, March.
  12. Paola Giuliano, 2005. "Living Arrangements in Western Europe: Does Cultural Origin Matter?," 2005 Meeting Papers 189, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  13. Bisin, A. & Verdier, T., 1997. "The Economics of Cultural Transmission and the Dynamics of Preferences," DELTA Working Papers 97-03, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  14. María Sáez-Martí & Anna Sjögren, 2008. "Peers and Culture," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(1), pages 73-92, 03.
  15. Maristella Botticini & Zvi Eckstein, 2006. "From Farmers to Merchants, Voluntary Conversion and Diaspora: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish History," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 2, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
  16. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Matthias Doepke & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2005. "Social Class and the Spirit of Capitalism," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 516-524, 04/05.
  18. Gary S. Becker & Casey B. Mulligan, 1997. "The Endogenous Determination of Time Preference," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(3), pages 729-758.
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