NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Influence of Ancestral Lifeways on Individual Economic Outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa

Stelios Michalopoulos, Louis Putterman, David N. Weil

NBER Working Paper No. 21907
Issued in January 2016, Revised in June 2016
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Political Economy

Does a person's historical lineage influence his or her current economic status? Motivated by a large literature in social sciences stressing the effect of an early transition to agriculture on current economic performance at the level of countries, we examine the relative contemporary status of individuals as a function of how much their ancestors relied on agriculture during the pre-industrial era. We focus on Africa, where by combining anthropological records of groups with individual level survey data we can explore the effect of the historical lifeways of one's forefathers. Within enumeration areas and occupational groups, we find that individuals from ethnicities that derived a larger share of subsistence from agriculture in the precolonial era are today more educated and wealthy. A tentative exploration of channels suggests that differences in attitudes and beliefs as well as differential treatment by others, including differential political power, may contribute to these divergent outcomes.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21907

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