NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Long-Term Barriers to the International Diffusion of Innovations

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg

NBER Working Paper No. 17271
Issued in August 2011
NBER Program(s):   IFM   POL

We document an empirical relationship between the cross-country adoption of technologies and the degree of long-term historical relatedness between human populations. Historical relatedness is measured using genetic distance, a measure of the time since two populations’ last common ancestors. We find that the measure of human relatedness that is relevant to explain international technology diffusion is genetic distance relative to the world technological frontier (“relative frontier distance”). This evidence is consistent with long-term historical relatedness acting as a barrier to technology adoption: societies that are more distant from the technological frontier tend to face higher imitation costs. The results can help explain current differences in total factor productivity and income per capita across countries.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17271

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