Ghosts of culture past

Kevin Lewis

December 10, 2019

Agricultural legacy and individualistic culture
James Ang
Journal of Economic Growth, December 2019, Pages 397–425


This paper presents evidence on the relationship between traditional farming practices and the emergence of individualistic culture. It hypothesizes that agricultural legacies have a persistent effect on the prevalence of modern-day individualistic traits. Individualism emerged in societies engaged in the farming of less labor-intensive crops, whereas interdependence emerged in societies engaged in the farming of more labor-intensive crops. The empirical analyses establish that agricultural legacies have shaped the formation of individualist traits among individuals, pre-industrial ethnic groups, and countries.

Learning is Caring: An Agrarian Origin of American Individualism
Itzchak Tzachi Raz
Harvard Working Paper, October 2019


This study examines the historical origins of American individualism. I test the hypothesis that local heterogeneity of the physical environment limited the ability of farmers on the American frontier to learn from their successful neighbors, turning them into self-reliant and individualistic people. Consistent with this hypothesis, I find that current residents of counties with higher agrarian heterogeneity are more culturally individualistic, less religious, and have weaker family ties. They are also more likely to support economically progressive policies, to have positive attitudes toward immigrants, and to identify with the Democratic Party. Similarly, counties with higher environmental heterogeneity had higher taxes and a higher provision of public institutions during the 19th century. This pattern is consistent with the substitutability of formal and informal institutions as means to solve collective action problems, and with the association between “communal” values and conservative policies. These findings also suggest that, while understudied, social learning is an important determinant of individualism.

Population Diversity and Ancestral Diversity As Distinct Contributors to Outgroup Prejudice
Ilan Shrira
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Previous research has shown conflicting findings on how population diversity influences outgroup prejudice. In some cases, prejudice is greater when minority groups make up a larger portion of the population, whereas in other cases, prejudice is lower as diversity increases. This article examined how the diversity of a culture’s ancestry — or its historical heterogeneity — would be related to outgroup attitudes. Historically heterogeneous populations descend from ancestors who have migrated from many parts of the world over the past 500 years and, as a result, have a longer legacy of contact with diverse groups of people. The results of two cross-cultural studies found that greater heterogeneity predicted lower levels of outgroup prejudice, and some evidence that diversity in the current population was related to increased prejudice. The findings suggest that intergroup attitudes have deeply entrenched roots that cannot be fully understood by looking at current indicators.

Do Attitudes Toward Risk Taking Affect Entrepreneurship? Evidence from Second-generation Americans
Areendam Chanda & Bulent Unel
Louisiana State University Working Paper, November 2019


This paper empirically investigates the impact of willingness to take risks on the likelihood of being an entrepreneur. We use a quarter century of data on second-generation Americans from Current Population Surveys in conjunction with country level measures of willingness to take risks from the Global Preference Survey. The average level of risk taking in the country of origin is found to have a positive and significant impact on the likelihood of being an entrepreneur. A one-standard deviation increase in risk taking increases the probability of being an entrepreneur by 15 percent. We also examine other preferences and cultural measures including trust, patience, and individualism. We find that these do not have an impact on entrepreneurship, while risk taking continues to be significant.

Explaining illness with evil: Pathogen prevalence fosters moral vitalism
Brock Bastian et al.
Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, October 2019


Pathogens represent a significant threat to human health leading to the emergence of strategies designed to help manage their negative impact. We examined how spiritual beliefs developed to explain and predict the devastating effects of pathogens and spread of infectious disease. Analysis of existing data in studies 1 and 2 suggests that moral vitalism (beliefs about spiritual forces of evil) is higher in geographical regions characterized by historical higher levels of pathogens. Furthermore, drawing on a sample of 3140 participants from 28 countries in study 3, we found that historical higher levels of pathogens were associated with stronger endorsement of moral vitalistic beliefs. Furthermore, endorsement of moral vitalistic beliefs statistically mediated the previously reported relationship between pathogen prevalence and conservative ideologies, suggesting these beliefs reinforce behavioural strategies which function to prevent infection. We conclude that moral vitalism may be adaptive: by emphasizing concerns over contagion, it provided an explanatory model that enabled human groups to reduce rates of contagious disease.

Cultural Variations in Resilience Capacity and Posttraumatic Stress: A Tri-Cultural Comparison
Ping Zheng et al.
Cross-Cultural Research, forthcoming


Resilience capacity has been associated with individuals’ flexibility and adaptability in responding to potential trauma. Culture-related appraisals influence not only interpretations of etiology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and perception of severity of PTSD symptoms but also flexible coping strategies. However, adequate research of the mechanisms on how culture may affect the relationship between resilience and PTSD does not yet exist. The present study focused on whether and how culture (America, Hong Kong, and Mainland China) moderated the relationship between resilience capacity and severity of posttraumatic distress. Data were collected at three research sites (America, Hong Kong, and Mainland China) where 558 trauma survivors were recruited. Measures included the Life Events Checklist (LEC-5), the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5), and the Revised Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC-R). The results of one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated that American participants were more resilient than the participants in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The results of multiple regression indicated that frequency of exposure to trauma was a weaker predictor of severity of PTSD symptoms at high versus low levels of resilience capacity. The results also indicated a weaker moderating effect of Hong Kong versus American culture on the relation between resilience capacity and PTSD. This pilot study highlighted East–West cultural differences in the baselines of resilience capacity and posttraumatic stress and may motivate clinicians and researchers to reevaluate Western diagnostic criteria to psychological trauma conceptualization and treatment for non-Western populations.

Prevalence and pattern of consanguineous marriage among educated married individuals in Riyadh
Samira Mahboub et al.
Journal of Biosocial Science, forthcoming


Consanguineous marriage is preferred in many countries, especially by Muslims. Despite the increasing education rate in Saudi Arabia, the prevalence of consanguineous marriage does not seem to be decreasing as quickly as expected. The present study aimed to investigate the current prevalence of consanguineous marriage among educated married adults in Riyadh and to determine the factors favouring it. The cross-sectional study was conducted in 2017–18 using an online questionnaire. A total of 550 questionnaires were sent to married adults of both sexes and 417 responded, giving a response rate of 75.8%. The questionnaire consisted of two parts: the first section asked for demographic data such as age, sex, educational level, residential area and family size. The second part was about consanguineous marriage and its degree if present, family history of consanguineous marriage and level of awareness of its potential negative impact on offspring. It was found that the prevalence of consanguineous marriage among the participating educated adults was 39.8% and most of these were married to a first cousin. Neither level of education nor age affected the likelihood of consanguineous marriage, but predictors for the practice among the educated participating adults were having a family history of consanguineous marriage, having consanguineous parents and having a personal preference for consanguineous marriage. In conclusion, the prevalence of consanguineous marriage among educated adults in Riyadh was still high in 2018, especially among first-cousin relatives, and this was related to family history and personal preference rather than educational level or age. It is recommended that further research is conducted to assess the level of knowledge about, and attitude towards, consanguineous marriage among adults in Saudi Arabia.

Leisure beliefs and the subjective well-being of nations
Lucía Macchia & Ashley Whillans
Journal of Positive Psychology, forthcoming


The policies of most governments focus on improving material prosperity. Yet, wealth only weakly predicts well-being. It is therefore important to understand whether factors other than money shape the happiness of nations. Here, we construct a data set of 79 countries (N = 220,000) and explore whether differences in the prioritization of time (leisure) vs. money (work) explain cross-country differences in happiness. Consistent with our predictions, countries whose citizens value leisure more than work report higher subjective well-being at the country and individual level. These effects hold in high and low GDP countries. Critically, we find evidence for a novel mechanism: people who value leisure over work are less negatively impacted by financial instability. Moving beyond individual welfare, the value that nations place on leisure vs. work fundamentally shapes happiness.


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