Parasitical Cultures and the Origins of Institutions

Robbert Maseland (University of Groningen)

Abstract: Do cultural attitudes have an effect on institutions and economic performance? This paper suggests that they do. To measure cultural attitudes, we use prevalence rates of the common parasite toxoplasma gondii, infection of which is known to affect individual attitudes and societal value orientations in predictable ways. By using prevalence rates of toxoplasma gondii as instrument for cultural variation, we are able to isolate the effects of cultural attitudes on institutions, distinguishing them from the effects of institutions and economic outcomes on culture. We thus find that variation in our indicators of cultural attitudes are strongly correlated with economic performance, and significant determinants of several dimensions of institutional quality.

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