Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change

52 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2017

See all articles by Paola Giuliano

Paola Giuliano

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Nathan Nunn

Harvard University - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 2017

Abstract

We examine a determinant of cultural persistence that has emerged from a class of models in evolutionary anthropology: the similarity of the environment across generations. Within these models, when the environment is more similar across generations, the traits that have evolved up to the previous generation are more likely to be optimal for the current generation. In equilibrium, a greater value is placed on tradition and there is greater cultural persistence. We test this hypothesis by measuring the variability of different climatic measures across 20-year generations from 500–1900. Employing a variety of tests, each using different samples and empirical strategies, we find that populations with ancestors who lived in environments with more cross-generational instability place less importance in maintaining tradition today and exhibit less cultural persistence.

Suggested Citation

Giuliano, Paola and Nunn, Nathan, Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change (July 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23617. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3007489

Paola Giuliano (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management ( email )

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Nathan Nunn

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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