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Kinship, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Moral Systems

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  • Benjamin Enke

Abstract

Across the social sciences, a key question is how societies manage to enforce cooperative behavior in social dilemmas such as public goods provision or bilateral trade. According to an influential body of theories in psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, the answer is that humans have evolved moral systems: packages of functional psychological and biological mechanisms that regulate economic behavior, including a belief in moralizing gods; moral values; negative reciprocity; and emotions of shame, guilt, and disgust. Based on a stylized model, this paper empirically studies the structure and evolution of these moral traits as a function of historical heterogeneity in extended kinship relationships. The evidence shows that societies with a historically tightly-knit kinship structure regulate behavior through communal moral values; revenge taking; emotions of external shame; and notions of purity and disgust. In loose kinship societies, on the other hand, cooperation appears to be enforced through universal moral values; internalized guilt; altruistic punishment; and an apparent rise and fall of moralizing religions. These patterns point to the presence of internally consistent, but culturally variable, functional moral systems. Consistent with the model, the relationship between kinship ties, economic development, and the structure of the mediating moral systems amplified over time.

Suggested Citation

  • Benjamin Enke, 2017. "Kinship, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Moral Systems," NBER Working Papers 23499, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23499
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    Cited by:

    1. Roland, Gerard, 2020. "The deep historical roots of modern culture: A comparative perspective," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 483-508.
    2. Johannes Becker & Daniel Hopp & Karolin Süß, 2020. "How Altruistic Is Indirect Reciprocity? - Evidence from Gift-Exchange Games in the Lab," CESifo Working Paper Series 8423, CESifo.
    3. Paola Giuliano & Nathan Nunn, 2018. "Ancestral Characteristics of Modern Populations," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(1), pages 1-17, January.
    4. Nathan Nunn & Nancy Qian & Jaya Wen, 2018. "Distrust and Political Turnover," NBER Working Papers 24187, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Bertocchi, Graziella & Dimico, Arcangelo, 2020. "Bitter Sugar: Slavery and the Black Family," GLO Discussion Paper Series 564, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    6. Obradovich, Nick & Özak, Ömer & Martín, Ignacio & Ortuño-Ortín, Ignacio & Awad, Edmond & Cebrián, Manuel & Cuevas, Rubén & Desmet, Klaus & Rahwan, Iyad & Cuevas, Ángel, 2020. "Expanding the measurement of culture with a sample of two billion humans," SocArXiv qkf42, Center for Open Science.
    7. Litina, Anastasia & Varvarigos, Dimitrios, 2020. "Corruption and the Cultural Evolution of Family Ties," MPRA Paper 98885, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Heap, Shaun P. Hargreaves & Matakos, Konstantinos & Weber, Nina Sophie, 2020. "Non-selfish behaviour: Are social preferences or social norms revealed in distribution decisions?," SocArXiv g4c2m, Center for Open Science.
    9. Anke Becker, 2019. "On the Economic Origins of Restrictions on Women's Sexuality," CESifo Working Paper Series 7770, CESifo.
    10. Graziella Bertocchi & Arcangelo Dimico, 2020. "Bitter Sugar: Slavery and the Black Family," Department of Economics 0172, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".
    11. Philip Roessler & Yannick I. Pengl & 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.
    12. David Tannenbaum & Alain Cohn & Christian Lukas Zünd & Michel André Maréchal, 2020. "What Do Lost Wallets Tell Us about Survey Measures of Social Capital?," CESifo Working Paper Series 8418, CESifo.
    13. David Tannenbaum & Alain Cohn & Christian Lukas Zünd & Michel André Maréchal, 2020. "What do lost wallets tell us about survey measures of social capital?," ECON - Working Papers 352, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    14. Artavia-Mora, Luis & Bedi, Arjun S. & Rieger, Matthias, 2018. "Help, Prejudice and Headscarves," IZA Discussion Papers 11460, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    15. Akbari, Mahsa & Bahrami-Rad, Duman & Kimbrough, Erik O., 2019. "Kinship, fractionalization and corruption," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 493-528.
    16. Catherine Guirkinger & Gani Aldashev & Alisher Aldashev & Maté Fodor, 2020. "Economic Persistence despite Adverse Policies: Evidence from Kyrgyzstan," Working Papers ECARES 2020-39, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    17. Johannes C. Buggle, 2017. "Irrigation, Collectivism and Long-Run Technological Divergence," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'économie 17.06, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, Département d’économie.
    18. 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.

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    JEL classification:

    • D0 - Microeconomics - - General
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development

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