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Bite and Divide: Malaria and Ethnolinguistic Diversity

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  • Cervellati, Matteo
  • Chiovelli, Giorgio
  • Esposito, Elena

Abstract

We investigate the epidemiological origins of ethnic diversity and its persistence. First, we conceptualize the role of malaria for the incentives to voluntary isolation in a Malthusian environment. The theory predicts that interactions in multiple geographically clustered groups with high sexual endogamy allowed limiting disease prevalence and increasing group fitness in pre-modern populations exposed to malaria. Second, using disaggregate level data, we document the hitherto unexplored and robust role of malaria for pre-colonial, historical and contemporaneous ethnic diversity in Africa. Third, falsification tests based on malaria epidemiology and history further allow us to validate the specific predictions of the model. No effect can be detected for other placebo vector-borne diseases. Malaria is a main driver of pre-colonial ethnic diversity in Africa but not in the Americas, where the pathogen was absent before European colonization. Fourth, the effect of ancestral malaria on endogamic cultures is the main predicted channel for the persistence of African ethnicities. Exploiting within village variation across 18 African countries, we find that ancestral malaria, but not malaria today, still affects the differential persistence of ethnicities through its legacy of active endogamic cultures.

Suggested Citation

  • Cervellati, Matteo & Chiovelli, Giorgio & Esposito, Elena, 2019. "Bite and Divide: Malaria and Ethnolinguistic Diversity," CEPR Discussion Papers 13437, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:13437
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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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    Cited by:

    1. Hodler, Roland & Valsecchi, Michele & Vesperoni, Alberto, 2021. "Ethnic geography: Measurement and evidence," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 200(C).
    2. Elena Esposito, 2018. "Side Effects of Immunity: The Rise of African Slavery in the US South," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'économie 18.07, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, Département d’économie.
    3. Anastasia Litina & Èric Roca Fernández, 2020. "Celestial enlightenment: eclipses, curiosity and economic development among pre-modern ethnic groups [Working Papers / Documents de travail]," Working Papers halshs-03044843, HAL.
    4. Emilio Depetris†Chauvin & David N. Weil, 2018. "Malaria and Early African Development: Evidence from the Sickle Cell Trait," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 128(610), pages 1207-1234, May.
    5. Nathan Nunn, 2020. "History as Evolution," NBER Working Papers 27706, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Philip Roessler & Yannick I Pengi & Robert Marty & Kyle Sorlie Titlow & Nicolas Van de Walle, 2020. "The Cash Crop Revolution, Colonialism and Legacies of Spatial Inequality: Evidence from Africa," CSAE Working Paper Series 2020-12, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    African Growth; Cultural and Genetic Selection; Endogamy; Ethnic Groups; Malaria; Malthusian Theory;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • 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
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General

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