Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change

79 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 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

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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.

Keywords: cultural persistence, cultural change, tradition

JEL Classification: N10, Q54

Suggested Citation

Giuliano, Paola and Nunn, Nathan, Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10930. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3029800

Paola Giuliano (Contact Author)

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

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

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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