Was De Montesquieu (only Half) Right? Evidence for a Stronger Work Ethic in Cold Climates

Robbert Maseland (University of Groningen)
Abdella Oumer (University of Groningen)
Harry Garretsen (University of Groningen)

Abstract: Although we know that geographical climate is associated with economic development, there have only been a few studies yet that try to explain the exact mechanisms through which climate and development are related. In this paper, we assess a cultural channel, most famously suggested by de Montesquieu, linking cooler climates to economic development through a stronger work ethic. On the basis of a novel approach exploiting individual-level happiness data in 98 countries to estimate the value attached to work, we show that people who live in a cold climate value working significantly more than people who live in a warm climate do. However, subsequent analysis at the national level suggests that the national average work ethic that we estimate from individual level data translates only marginally into a better economic performance at national level. Our results support de Montesquieu’s hypothesis that a cold climate creates informal norms encouraging people to value work more, but, in contrast to his suggestion, the impact of this channel on economic development appears very limited. We conclude that de Montesquieu was only half right when he stated that differences in economic development can be traced back to differences in climate-induced work attitudes.

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