Times and Places

Kevin Lewis

February 13, 2024

The motivating effect of monetary over psychological incentives is stronger in WEIRD cultures
Danila Medvedev et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming 


Motivating effortful behaviour is a problem employers, governments and nonprofits face globally. However, most studies on motivation are done in Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) cultures. We compared how hard people in six countries worked in response to monetary incentives versus psychological motivators, such as competing with or helping others. The advantage money had over psychological interventions was larger in the United States and the United Kingdom than in China, India, Mexico and South Africa (N = 8,133). In our last study, we randomly assigned cultural frames through language in bilingual Facebook users in India (N = 2,065). Money increased effort over a psychological treatment by 27% in Hindi and 52% in English. These findings contradict the standard economic intuition that people from poorer countries should be more driven by money. Instead, they suggest that the market mentality of exchanging time and effort for material benefits is most prominent in WEIRD cultures.

Guiltily indebted? How a word is linked to individual borrowing
Tamara Bogatzki, David Stadelmann & Benno Torgler
Applied Economics Letters, forthcoming 


Using data from the World Values Survey, we show that individuals who speak a language in which the same word is used for both (financial) debt and (moral) guilt have a statistically significant and economically meaningful lower likelihood of borrowing money. This relationship holds even after controlling for a range of covariates, fixed effects, grammatical future tense reference, and the Germanic language family. Our results suggest that the synonymity of debt and guilt may be a hitherto overlooked aspect in explaining borrowing behaviour.

Does Culture Moderate Gender Stereotypes? Individualism Predicts Communal (but Not Agentic) Prescriptions for Men Across 62 Nations
Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming 


The cultural moderation of gender stereotypes hypothesis argues that societies assign the most culturally valued traits to men, the dominant group. Thus, in line with cultural ideals, collectivistic societies should assign men more communality, whereas individualistic societies should assign men more individualism. Using archival data, Cuddy et al. found evidence for cultural moderation in descriptive stereotypes. We argue, however, that cultural moderation should be tested using prescriptive stereotypes, which more directly reflect cultural ideals about how men and women should be. We also provide a more robust test using contemporary data from 62 countries from the Towards Gender Harmony project (N = 27,391), allowing multilevel modeling techniques. We found evidence for cultural moderation for communal (though not agentic) traits: Collectivistic (compared to individualistic) nations prescribed relatively more communal traits to men. Thus, we show that prescriptions for men gravitate more toward core cultural values than prescriptions for women.

Gender equity and male and female smoking behavior
William Jergins
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming 


We document a positive relationship between culturally inherited beliefs about gender equity and female smoking, using data on first and second-generation immigrants living in the United States. We find that a one standard deviation increase in our measure of gender equity is associated with an increase in the probability that a female immigrant smokes of approximately 1.4 and 1.8 percentage points or 23% and 20% for first and second-generation immigrants respectively. As male smoking behavior is largely unaffected by gender equality, we find that gender equity tends to reduce the size of the gender gap in smoking.

The slave trade and the origins of matrilineal kinship
Sara Lowes & Nathan Nunn
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 11 March 2024 


Matrilineal kinship systems -- where descent is traced through mothers only -- are present all over the world but are most concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. We explore the relationship between exposure to Africa’s external slave trades, during which millions of people were shipped from the continent during a 400-year period, and the evolution of matrilineal kinship. Scholars have hypothesized that matrilineal kinship, which is well-suited to incorporating new members, maintaining lineage continuity and insulating children from the removal of parents (particularly fathers), was an adaptive response to the slave trades. Motivated by this, we test for a connection between the slave trades and matrilineal kinship by combining historical data on an ethnic group’s exposure to the slave trades and the presence of matrilineal kinship following the end of the trades. We find that the slave trades are positively associated with the subsequent presence of matrilineal kinship. The result is robust to a variety of measures of exposure to the slave trades, the inclusion of additional covariates, sensitivity analyses that remove outliers, and an instrumental variables estimator that uses a group’s historical distance from the coast as an instrument. We also find evidence of a complementarity between polygyny and matrilineal kinship, which were both social responses to the disruption of the trades.

Ancestral institutions and the salience of African ethnicity: Theory and Evidence
Abreham Adera
Journal of Institutional Economics, January 2024 


This paper advances a pre-colonial institutional thesis to explain the variation in the salience of ethnicity in African societies. It posits that pre-colonial political centralization facilitated the accumulation of economic and institutional advantages, positioning descendants of centralized ethnic groups to benefit from these advantages within postcolonial states. Social identity choices are rational; therefore, descendants of centralized ethnic groups, who enjoy greater advantages within the nation, find less incentive to choose their ethnicity over their national identity. Examples from Ethiopia and Ghana as well as the evidence from combining individual-level survey data from the Afrobarometer with historical data on pre-colonial political centralization support the theoretical claim. In particular, the paper presents both theory and evidence indicating that individuals with ancestors from politically centralized pre-colonial societies are less likely to favour their ethnic identity over their national identity . These findings underscore the importance of considering pre-colonial legacies when promoting national unity.

Disrupted routines anticipate musical exploration
Khwan Kim, Noah Askin & James Evans
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 6 February 2024


Understanding and predicting the emergence and evolution of cultural tastes manifested in consumption patterns is of central interest to social scientists, analysts of culture, and purveyors of content. Prior research suggests that taste preferences relate to personality traits, values, shifts in mood, and immigration destination. Understanding everyday patterns of listening and the function music plays in life has remained elusive, however, despite speculation that musical nostalgia may compensate for local disruption. Using more than one hundred million streams of four million songs by tens of thousands of international listeners from a global music service, we show that breaches in personal routine are systematically associated with personal musical exploration. As people visited new cities and countries, their preferences diversified, converging toward their travel destinations. As people experienced the very different disruptions associated with COVID-19 lockdowns, their preferences diversified further. Personal explorations did not tend to veer toward the global listening average, but away from it, toward distinctive regional musical content. Exposure to novel music explored during periods of routine disruption showed a persistent influence on listeners’ future consumption patterns. Across all of these settings, musical preference reflected rather than compensated for life’s surprises, leaving a lasting legacy on tastes. We explore the relationship between these findings and global patterns of behavior and cultural consumption.

Jeans and language: Kin networks and reproductive success are associated with the adoption of outgroup norms
Qiao-Qiao He et al.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 11 March 2024 


Traditional norms of human societies in rural China may have changed owing to population expansion, rapid development of the tourism economy and globalization since the 1990s; people from different ethnic groups might adopt cultural traits from outside their group or lose their own culture at different rates. Human behavioural ecology can help to explain adoption of outgroup cultural values. We compared the adoption of four cultural values, specifically speaking outgroup languages/mother tongue and wearing jeans, in two co-residing ethnic groups, the Mosuo and Han. Both groups are learning outgroup traits, including each other's languages through contact in economic activities, education and kin networks, but only the Mosuo are starting to lose their own language. Males are more likely to adopt outgroup values than females in both groups. Females of the two groups are no different in speaking Mandarin and wearing jeans, whereas males do differ, with Mosuo males being keener to adopt them than Han males. The reason might be that Mosuo men experience more reproductive competition over mates, as Mosuo men have larger reproductive skew than others. Moreover, Mosuo men but not others gain fitness benefits from the adoption of Mandarin (they start reproducing earlier than non-speakers).


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.