Regime Stability and Persistence of Traditional Practices

Michael Poyker (University of California at Los Angeles)

Abstract: I investigate the role of national institutions on persistence of cultural norms and traditions. Why does the harmful tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM) still persist in certain African countries, while in others it has been successfully eradicated? This paper contributes to understanding of the stability and decay of social and tribal norms, institutions and practices, by exploring the conditions under which female circumcision is abolished. People are more willing to abandon their institutions and traditions if they are sure that the government is durable enough to set up replacements for them in the long term. If the regime is weak, people revert to their traditional cultural norms in order to reduce uncertainty and minimise the risks of interaction between people. I exploit the fact that ethnic groups in Africa were artificially partitioned by countries' national borders and show using country-ethnicity panel dataset that in general, one standard deviation in political regime durability explains a 12.5% of standard deviation of share of circumcised women. I confirm that the results are unlikely to be spurious by using a number of identification strategies and showing that results are robust to an array of control variables and robustness checks.

Download the paper