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The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief

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  • Boris Gershman

Abstract

The evil eye belief is a widespread superstition according to which people can cause harm by a mere envious glance at coveted objects or their owners. This paper argues that such belief originated and persisted as a useful heuristic under conditions in which envy was likely to trigger destructive behavior and the avoidance of other people's envy, effectively prescribed by the evil eye belief, was a proper response to that threat. We hypothesize that in weakly institutionalized societies wealth differentiation and vulnerability of productive assets were the key factors enabling envy-induced destructive behavior and contributing to the emergence and spread of the evil eye belief as a cultural defense mechanism. Evidence from small-scale preindustrial societies shows that there is indeed a robust positive association between the incidence of the belief and measures of wealth inequality, controlling for potential confounding factors such as patterns of spatial and cross-cultural diffusion and various dimensions of early economic development. Furthermore, the evil eye belief is more prevalent in agro-pastoral societies that tend to sustain higher levels of inequality and where vulnerable material wealth plays a dominant role in the subsistence economy.

Suggested Citation

  • Boris Gershman, 2013. "The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief," Working Papers 2013-14, American University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2013-14
    DOI: 10.17606/e3zs-e288
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    File URL: https://doi.org/10.17606/e3zs-e288
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief
      by UDADISI in UDADISI on 2013-08-27 15:58:00
    2. Do witchcraft beliefs halt economic progress?
      by ? in PsyPost on 2016-05-10 00:06:00

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    Cited by:

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    2. Peter T. Leeson & Jacob W. Russ, 2018. "Witch Trials," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 128(613), pages 2066-2105, August.
    3. Peter T. Leeson & Jacob W. Russ, 2018. "Witch Trials," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 128(613), pages 2066-2105, August.
    4. Boris Gershman, 2014. "The two sides of envy," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 19(4), pages 407-438, December.
    5. 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).
    6. Maxim Ananyev & Michael Poyker, 2020. "Christian missions and anti-gay attitudes in Africa," Discussion Papers 2020-04, Nottingham Interdisciplinary Centre for Economic and Political Research (NICEP).
    7. Mark Koyama, 2019. "Peter T. Leeson, WTF?!: An economic tour of the weird," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 32(1), pages 81-84, March.
    8. Mustafa Kavas & Paula Jarzabkowski & Amit Nigam, 2020. "Islamic Family Business: The Constitutive Role of Religion in Business," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 163(4), pages 689-700, May.
    9. 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.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Culture; Envy; Evil eye belief; Inequality; Institutions; Superstition;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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