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The Influence of Ancestral Lifeways on Individual Economic Outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa

Listed author(s):
  • Stelios Michalopoulos
  • Louis Putterman
  • David Weil

We explore the role of an individual's historical lienage in determining economic status, holding constant his or her current location. This is complementary to the more common approachto studying how history shapes economic outcomes across locations. Motivated by a large literature in social sciences stressing the beneficial influence of agricultural transition on contemporary economic perfromance at the level of countries, we examine the relative status of descendants of agriculturalists vs. pastoralists. We match individual-level survey data with information on the historical lifeways of ancestors, focusing in Africa, where the transition away from such modes of production began only recently. Within enumeration areas and occupational groups, we find that individuals from ethnicities that derived a larger share of subsistence from agriculture in the pre-colonial era are today more educated and wealthy. A tentative exploration of channels suggests that differences in attitudes and beliefs as well as differential treatment by others, including less political power, may contribute to these divergent outcomes.

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Paper provided by Brown University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 2016-1.

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Date of creation: 2016
Handle: RePEc:bro:econwp:2016-1
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Department of Economics, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912

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  1. Alessandra Fogli & Raquel Fernandez, 2009. "Culture: An Empirical Investigation of Beliefs, Work, and Fertility," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 146-177, January.
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  9. Oded Galor & Ömer Özak, 2016. "The Agricultural Origins of Time Preference," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(10), pages 3064-3103, October.
  10. William Easterly & Ross Levine, 1997. "Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1203-1250.
  11. Pauline Grosjean, 2014. "A History Of Violence: The Culture Of Honor And Homicide In The Us South," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 12(5), pages 1285-1316, October.
  12. Nathan Nunn & Leonard Wantchekon, 2011. "The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3221-3252, December.
  13. Louis Putterman, 2008. "Agriculture, Diffusion and Development: Ripple Effects of the Neolithic Revolution," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 75(300), pages 729-748, November.
  14. Marcella Alsan, 2015. "The Effect of the TseTse Fly on African Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(1), pages 382-410, January.
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  16. Christopher D. Carroll & Byung-Kun Rhee & Changyong Rhee, 1994. "Are There Cultural Effects on Saving? Some Cross-Sectional Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 685-699.
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