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The role of lactase persistence in precolonial development

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  • C. Cook

Abstract

This paper argues that a genetic adaptation to the Neolithic Revolution led to differential levels of development in the precolonial era. The ability to digest milk, or to be lactase persistent, is conferred by a gene variant that is unequally distributed across the Old World. Milk provided qualitative and quantitative advantages to the diet that led to differences in the carrying capacities of respective countries. It is shown through a number of specifications that country-level variation in the frequency of lactase persistence is positively and significantly related to population density in 1,500 CE; specifically, a one standard deviation increase in the frequency of lactase persistent individuals (roughly 24 percentage points) is associated with roughly a 40 % increase in precolonial population density. This relationship is robust to a large number of sample specifications and potentially omitted variables. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Suggested Citation

  • C. Cook, 2014. "The role of lactase persistence in precolonial development," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 19(4), pages 369-406, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jecgro:v:19:y:2014:i:4:p:369-406
    DOI: 10.1007/s10887-014-9109-5
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    8. Peter Sandholt Jensen & Markus Lampe & Paul Sharp & Christian Volmar Skovsgaard, 2018. "‘Getting to Denmark’: the Role of Elites for Development," Working Papers 0125, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    9. Erkan Goeren, 2017. "The Role of Novelty-Seeking Traits in Contemporary Knowledge Creation," Working Papers V-402-17, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised Sep 2017.
    10. Nina Boberg-Fazlić & Paul Sharp, 2019. "Immigrant Communities and Knowledge Spillovers: Danish-Americans and the Development of the Dairy Industry in the United States," Working Papers 0155, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    11. Gören, Erkan, 2017. "The persistent effects of novelty-seeking traits on comparative economic development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 112-126.
    12. Llorca-Jaña, Manuel & Navarrete-Montalvo, Juan & Droller, Federico & Araya-Valenzuela, Roberto, 2018. "Height in eighteenth-century Chilean men: Evidence from military records, 1730–1800s," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 29(C), pages 168-178.
    13. Rok Spruk, 2019. "The rise and fall of Argentina," Latin American Economic Review, Springer;Centro de Investigaciòn y Docencia Económica (CIDE), vol. 28(1), pages 1-40, December.
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    15. Andrey Shcherbak, 2015. "Does Milk Matter? Genetic Adaptation to Environment: The Effect of Lactase Persistence on Cultural Change," HSE Working papers WP BRP 64/SOC/2015, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Historical development; Genetic diversity; Neolithic Revolution; Population density; O13; N5; Z13;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • N5 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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