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The Role of Lactose Tolerance in Pre-Colonial Development

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Abstract

This paper establishes a link between natural selection since the Neolithic Revolution and economic conditions in the pre-colonial era. The ability to digest milk, or to be lactose tolerant, is conferred by a gene variant, which is unequally distributed across the Old World. Digesting milk conferred qualitative and quantitative advantages to early farmers's diets, which ultimately, 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 the ability to consume milk is positively and significantly related to population densities in 1500 CE; specifically, a one standard deviation in- crease in the frequency of lactose tolerant individuals (24% points) is associated with roughly a 60% increase in pre-colonial population densities. This relationship remains while controlling for agricultural transition dates, other measures of genetic distance, and a wide array of environmental controls. Additionally, the basis for the relation- ship between dairying and population density is confirmed with the use of instrumental variables estimation.

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  • Charles J. Cook, 2011. "The Role of Lactose Tolerance in Pre-Colonial Development," Departmental Working Papers 2011-12, Department of Economics, Louisiana State University.
  • Handle: RePEc:lsu:lsuwpp:2011-12
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    File URL: http://bus.lsu.edu/McMillin/Working_Papers/pap11_12.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. Erkan Gören, 2015. "The Relationship Between Novelty-Seeking Traits and Comparative Economic Development," Working Papers V-374-15, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2015.
    2. Quamrul H. Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2016. "The Macrogenoeconomics of Comparative Development," Department of Economics Working Papers 2016-02, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Apr 2018.
    3. Spolaore, Enrico & Wacziarg, Romain, 2014. "Long-Term Barriers to Economic Development," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 3, pages 121-176 Elsevier.
    4. Justin Cook, C., 2014. "Potatoes, milk, and the Old World population boom," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 123-138.
    5. T. Ryan Johnson & Dietrich Vollrath, 2017. "How Tight are Malthusian Constraints?," Working Papers 2017-192-55, Department of Economics, University of Houston.
    6. Nunn, Nathan, 2014. "Historical Development," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 7, pages 347-402 Elsevier.
    7. Erkan Gören, 2014. "The Biogeographic Origins of Novelty-Seeking Traits," Working Papers V-366-14, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised May 2014.

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