NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of "Rugged Individualism" in the United States

Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein, Mesay Gebresilasse

NBER Working Paper No. 23997
Issued in November 2017, Revised in April 2018
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Political Economy

In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the American frontier fostered individualism. We investigate the Frontier Thesis and identify its long-run implications for culture and politics. We track the frontier throughout the 1790–1890 period and construct a county-level measure of total frontier experience (TFE). Historically, frontier locations had distinctive demographics and greater individualism. Many decades after the closing of the frontier, counties with greater TFE exhibit more pervasive individualism and opposition to redistribution. Suggestive evidence on the roots of rugged individualism points to selective migration, the adaptive advantage of self-reliance, and opportunities for upward mobility through effort.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23997

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