Folklore

90 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2019 Last revised: 19 Nov 2021

See all articles by Stelios Michalopoulos

Stelios Michalopoulos

Brown University - Department of Economics; Brown University

Melanie Meng Xue

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2019

Abstract

Folklore is the collection of traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community passed through the generations by word of mouth. We introduce to economics a unique catalogue of oral traditions spanning approximately 1,000 societies. After validating the catalogue’s content by showing that the groups’ motifs reflect known geographic and social attributes, we present two sets of applications. First, we illustrate how to fill in the gaps and expand upon a group’s ethnographic record, focusing on political complexity, high gods, and trade. Second, we discuss how machine learning and human-classification methods can help shed light on cultural traits, using gender roles, attitudes towards risk, and trust as examples. Societies with tales portraying men as dominant and women as submissive tend to relegate their women to subordinate positions in their communities, both historically and today. More risk-averse and less entrepreneurial people grew up listening to stories where competitions and challenges are more likely to be harmful than beneficial. Communities with low tolerance towards antisocial behavior, captured by the prevalence of tricksters getting punished, are more trusting and prosperous today. These patterns hold across groups, countries, and second- generation immigrants. Overall, the results highlight the significance of folklore in cultural economics, calling for additional applications.

Suggested Citation

Michalopoulos, Stelios and Xue, Melanie Meng, Folklore (January 2019). NBER Working Paper No. w25430, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3315233

Stelios Michalopoulos (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/steliosecon/

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Melanie Meng Xue

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.melaniexue.net/

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