Economic Development and the Regulation of Morally Contentious Activities

Julio J. Elias, Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis, Paola Salardi

NBER Working Paper No. 23214
Issued in March 2017
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Health Economics, Law and Economics, Public Economics

The regulation of many activities depends on whether societies consider them morally controversial or “repugnant”. Not only have regulation and related ethical concerns changed over time, but there is also heterogeneity across countries at a given time. We provide evidence of this heterogeneity for three morally contentious activities: abortion, prostitution and gestational surrogacy, and explore the relationship between a country’s economic conditions and how these activities are regulated. We propose a conceptual framework to identify mechanisms that can explain our findings (including the role of non-economic factors), and indicate directions for future research.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23214

Published: Julio J. Elías & Nicola Lacetera & Mario Macis & Paola Salardi, 2017. "Economic Development and the Regulation of Morally Contentious Activities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 76-80, May. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Elias, Lacetera, and Macis w22632 Efficiency-Morality Trade-Offs in Repugnant Transactions: A Choice Experiment
Nunn and Sanchez de la Sierra w23207 Why Being Wrong can be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs
Dippel, Gold, Heblich, and Pinto w23209 Instrumental Variables and Causal Mechanisms: Unpacking The Effect of Trade on Workers and Voters
Lacetera w22673 Incentives and Ethics in the Economics of Body Parts
Backus, Blake, Masterov, and Tadelis w23022 Expectation, Disappointment, and Exit: Reference Point Formation in a Marketplace
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us