Ancestry, Language and Culture

  • Enrico Spolaore
  • Romain Wacziarg


Populations that share a more recent common ancestry exchange goods, capital, innovations and technologies more intensively, but they also tend to fight more with each other.1 Why does ancestral distance matter for these outcomes? In this chapter, we argue that when populations split apart and diverge over the long span of history their cultural traits also diverge. These cultural traits include language and religion but also a broader set of norms, values and attitudes that are transmitted intergenerationally and therefore display persistence over long stretches of time. In turn, these traits introduce barriers to interactions and communication between societies, in proportion to how far they have drifted from each other.


Genetic Distance Linguistic Diversity Cultural Distance Cultural Transmission Standardize Beta 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Q. Ashraf and O. Galor (2013a) ‘The “Out of Africa” Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development’, American Economic Review, 103, 1–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Q. Ashraf and O. Galor (2013b) ‘Genetic Diversity and the Origins of Cultural Fragmentation’, American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, 103, 528–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. A. Alesina, A. Devleeschauwer, W. Easterly, S. Kurlat and R. Wacziarg (2003) ‘Fractionalization’, Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 55–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. E. Arbatli, Q. Ashraf and O. Galor (2013) ‘The Nature of Civil Conflict’, Working Paper, Brown University.Google Scholar
  5. Y. Bai and J. Kung (2011) ‘Genetic Distance and Income Difference: Evidence from Changes in China’s Cross-Strait Relations’, Economics Letters, 110, 255–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. J. Beauchamp, D. Cesarini, M. Johannesson, M. van der Loos, P. Koellinger, P. Groenen, J. Fowler, J. Rosenquist, A. Thurik and N. Christakis (2011) ‘Molecular Genetics and Economics’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25, 57–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. A. Bell, P. Richerson and R. McElreath (2009) ‘Culture Rather than Genes Provides Greater Scope for the Evolution of Large-Scale Human Prosociality’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, 106, 17671–17674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. D. Benjamin, D. Cesarini, M. van der Loos, C. Dawes, P. Koellinger, P. Magnusson, C. Chabris, D. Conley, D. Laibson, M. Johannesson and P. Vissche (2012) ‘The Genetic Architecture of Economic and Political Preferences’, Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences of the United States, 109, 8026–8031.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. A. Bisin and T. Verdier (2000) ‘Beyond the Melting Pot: Cultural Transmission, Marriage, and the Evolution of Ethnic and Religious Traits’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115, 955–988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. A. Bisin and T. Verdier (2001) ‘The Economics of Cultural Transmission and the Evolution of Preferences’, Journal of Economic Theory, 97, 298–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. A. Bisin and T. Verdier (2010) ‘The Economics of Cultural Transmission and Socialization’, NBER Working Paper 16512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. S. Bowles and H. Gintis (2011) A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. R. Boyd and P. Richerson (1985) Culture and the Evolutionary Process (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).Google Scholar
  14. L. Cavalli-Sforza and A. Edwards (1964) ‘Analysis of Human Evolution’, Proceedings of the 11th International Congress Genetics, 2, 923–933.Google Scholar
  15. L. Cavalli-Sforza and M. Feldman (1981) Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  16. L. Cavalli-Sforza, P. Menozzi and A. Piazza (1994) The History and Geography of Human Genes (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  17. R. Dawkins (1976) The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  18. K. Desmet, I. Ortuño-Ortín and R. Wacziarg (2014) ‘Culture, Ethnicity and Diversity’, Working Paper, UCLA.Google Scholar
  19. K. Desmet, M. Le Breton, I. Ortuño-Ortín and S. Weber (2011) ‘The Stability and Breakup of Nations: A Quantitative Analysis’, Journal of Economic Growth, 16, 183–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. I. Dyen, J. Kruskal and P. Black (1992) ‘An Indoeuropean Classification: A Lexicostatistical Experiment’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 82, 1–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. D. Falconer and T. Mackay (1996) Introduction to Quantitative Genetics (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited).Google Scholar
  22. J. Fearon (2003) ‘Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country’, Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 195–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. V. Ginsburgh and S. Weber (2011) How Many Languages Do We Need? The Economics of Linguistic Diversity (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  24. Y. Gorodnichenko and G. Roland (2011) ‘Culture, Institutions and the Wealth of Nations’, Working Paper, UC Berkeley.Google Scholar
  25. J. Greenberg (1956) ‘The Measurement of Linguistic Diversity’, Language, 32, 109–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. L. Guiso, P. Sapienza and L. Zingales (2009) ‘Cultural Biases in Economic Exchange’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 124, 1095–1131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. M. Hamilton (2009) Population Genetics (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell).Google Scholar
  28. R. Mecham, J. Fearon and D. Laitin (2006) ‘Religious Classification and Data on Shares of Major World Religions’, Manuscript, Stanford University.Google Scholar
  29. J. Melitz (2008) ‘Language and Foreign Trade’, European Economic Review, 52, 667–699.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. J. Melitz and F. Toubal (2012) ‘Native Language, Spoken Language, Translation and Trade’, CEPR Discussion Paper 8994.Google Scholar
  31. P. Ralph and G. Coop (2013) ‘The Geography of Recent Genetic Ancestry Across Europe’, PLoS Biology, 11(5), see
  32. P. Richerson and R. Boyd (2004) Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. N. Rosenberg, J. Pritchard, J. Weber, H. Cann, K. Kidd, L. Zhivotovsky and M. Feldman (2002) ‘Genetic Structure of Human Populations’, Science, 298, 2381–2385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. P. Seabright (2010) The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. M. Seldin, R. Shigeta, P. Villoslada, C. Selmi, J. Tuomilehto, G. Silva, J. Belmont, L. Klareskog and P. Gregersen (2006) ‘European Population Substructure: Clustering of Northern and Southern Populations’, PLoS Genetics, 2(9).Google Scholar
  36. E. Spolaore and R. Wacziarg (2009) ‘The Diffusion of Development’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 124, 469–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. E. Spolaore and R. Wacziarg (2012) ‘Long-Term Barriers to the International Diffusion of Innovations’ In J. Frankel and C. Pissarides (eds) NBER International Seminar on Macroeconomics 2011, pp. 11–46 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).Google Scholar
  38. E. Spolaore and R. Wacziarg (2013) ‘How Deep Are the Roots of Economic Development?’, Journal of Economic Literature, 51, 325–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. E. Spolaore and R. Wacziarg (2014) ‘Fertility and Modernity’, Forthcoming, Review of Economics and Statistics.Google Scholar
  40. E. Spolaore and R. Wacziarg (2015) ‘War and Relatedness’, Working Paper, UCLA and Tufts University.Google Scholar
  41. C. Tian, R. Kosoy, R. Nassir, A. Lee, P. Villoslada, L. Klareskog, L. Hammarström, H.-J. Garchon, A. Pulver, M. Ransom, P. Gregersen and M. Seldin (2009) ‘European Population Genetic Substructure: Further Definition of Ancestry Informative Markers for Distinguishing among Diverse European Ethnic Groups’, Molecular Medicine, 15, 371–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. World Christian Database (2007)
  43. S. Wright (1951) ‘The Genetical Structure of Populations’, Annals of Eugenics, 15, 323–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Enrico Spolaore and Romain Wacziarg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enrico Spolaore
  • Romain Wacziarg

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations