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A History of Violence: The Culture of Honor as a Determinant of Homicide in the US South


  • Pauline Grosjean

    () (School of Economics, The University of New South Wales)


According to the culture of honor hypothesis, the high prevalence of homicide in the US South originates from the settlement of the region by herders from the fringes of Britain in the late 18th century. Combining contemporary homicide data with historical Census data, this paper confirms that Scot or Scots-Irish settlements are associated with higher homicide today, but only in the South. Using different proxies for institutional quality, I find that the Scots-Irish culture of honor only persisted where institutional quality was low. The interpretation is that the culture of honor, a private justice system, persisted in the South as an adaptive behavior to weak institutions. The effect is more pronounced where herding was more prevalent. It is confined to white offenders and to specific homicides that seem to aim at the defense of one’s reputation. By contrast, the culture of honor deters violent crime against women. The culture of honor was transmitted to subsequent generations, but, again, only where formal institutions were weak. Evidence also suggests that the Scots-Irish culture of honor continues to adapt: it has been slowly fading over time.

Suggested Citation

  • Pauline Grosjean, 2011. "A History of Violence: The Culture of Honor as a Determinant of Homicide in the US South," Discussion Papers 2011-13, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  • Handle: RePEc:swe:wpaper:2011-13

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    Cited by:

    1. Fouka, Vasiliki & Schlaepfer, Alain, 2017. "Agricultural Returns to Labor and the Origins of Work Ethics," MPRA Paper 78556, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Luigi Guiso & Helios Herrera & Massimo Morelli, 2016. "Cultural Differences and Institutional Integration," NBER Chapters,in: NBER International Seminar on Macroeconomics 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Couttenier, Mathieu & Sangnier, Marc, 2015. "Living in the Garden of Eden: Mineral resources and preferences for redistribution," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 243-256.
    4. Luigi Guiso & Paola Sapienza & Luigi Zingales, 2016. "Long-Term Persistence," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 14(6), pages 1401-1436, December.
    5. Nico Voigtländer & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2012. "Persecution Perpetuated: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Semitic Violence in Nazi Germany," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(3), pages 1339-1392.
    6. A. Alesina & P. Giuliano., 2016. "Culture and institutions," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 10.
    7. Grosfeld, Irena & Zhuravskaya, Ekaterina, 2013. "Persistent effects of empires: Evidence from the partitions of Poland," CEPR Discussion Papers 9371, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Nathan Nunn, 2012. "Culture and the Historical Process," NBER Working Papers 17869, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Alessandra Cassar & Giovanna d'Adda & Pauline Grosjean, 2013. "Institutional Quality, Culture, and Norms of Cooperation: Evidence from a Behavioral Field Experiment," Discussion Papers 2013-10, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
    10. Nunn, Nathan, 2014. "Historical Development," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 7, pages 347-402 Elsevier.
    11. Xin Jin & Xu Xu, 2016. "The Autocratic Root of Social Distrust," Working Papers 0516, University of South Florida, Department of Economics.
    12. Luigi Guiso & Helios Herrera & Massimo Morelli, 2013. "A Cultural Clash View of the EU Crisis," EIEF Working Papers Series 1321, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Jul 2013.

    More about this item


    Cultural Persistence; Homicide; Institutions; Migration; Scots-Irish; US South;

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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