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Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change

Author

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  • Giuliano, Paola

    () (University of California, Los Angeles)

  • Nunn, Nathan

    () (Harvard University)

Abstract

When does culture persist and when does it change? We examine a determinant that has been put forth in the anthropology literature: the variability of the environment from one generation to the next. A prediction, which emerges from a class of existing models from evolutionary anthropology, is that following the customs of the previous generation is relatively more beneficial in stable environments where the culture that has evolved up to the previous generation is more likely to be relevant for the subsequent generation. We test this hypothesis by measuring the variability of average temperature across 20-year generations from 500–1900. Looking across countries, ethnic groups, and the descendants of immigrants, we find that populations with ancestors who lived in environments with more stability from one generation to the next place a greater importance in maintaining tradition today. These populations also exhibit more persistence in their traditions over time.

Suggested Citation

  • Giuliano, Paola & Nunn, Nathan, 2017. "Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change," IZA Discussion Papers 10930, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10930
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    Cited by:

    1. Oded Galor & Viacheslav Savitskiy, 2018. "Climatic Roots of Loss Aversion," CESifo Working Paper Series 6917, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Eder, Christoph & Halla, Martin, 2017. "Economic Origins of Cultural Norms: The Case of Animal Husbandry and Bastardy," IZA Discussion Papers 10969, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Samuel Bazzi & Martin Fiszbein & Mesay Gebresilasse, 2018. "Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of “Rugged Individualism†in the United States," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series dp-302, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    4. Abel Brodeur & Joanne Haddad, 2018. "Institutions, Attitudes and LGBT: Evidence from the Gold Rush," Working Papers 1808E, University of Ottawa, Department of Economics.
    5. Liang, Ruobing & Wang, Xiaobing & Yamauchi, Futoshi, 2018. "Cotton Revolution And Widow Chastity In Ming And Qing China," 2018 Annual Meeting, August 5-7, Washington, D.C. 274177, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    6. repec:kap:jecgro:v:22:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10887-017-9144-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Samuel Bazzi & Martin Fiszbein & Mesay Gebresilasse, 2017. "Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of “Rugged Individualism†in the United States," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2018-004, Boston University - Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    cultural persistence; cultural change; tradition;

    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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