Kin-based institutions and economic development

Though many theories have been advanced to account for global differences in economic prosperity, little attention has been paid to the oldest and most fundamental of human institutions: kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, clan membership, post-marital residence and family organization. Here, focusing on an anthropologically well established dimension of kinship, we establish a robust and economically significant negative association between the tightness and breadth of kin-based institutions—their kinship intensity—and economic development. To measure kinship intensity and economic development, we deploy both quantified ethnographic observations on kinship and genotypic measures (which proxy endogamous marriage patterns) with data on satellite nighttime luminosity and regional GDP. Our results are robust to controlling for a suite of geographic and cultural variables and hold across countries, within countries at both the regional and ethnolinguistic levels, and within countries in a spatial regression discontinuity analysis. Considering potential mechanisms, we discuss evidence consistent with kinship intensity indirectly impacting economic development via its effects on the division of labor, cultural psychology, institutions, and innovation.

That is a new and very important paper by Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan Beauchamp, Joseph Henrich, and Jonathan Schulz, the two Jonathans being my colleagues at GMU.


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