Mesay Melese Gebresilasse
270 Bay State Rd.
Boston, MA 02113
NBER Working Papers and Publications
|November 2017||Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of "Rugged Individualism" in the United States|
with Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein: w23997
In a classic 1893 essay, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the American frontier promoted individualism. We revisit the Frontier Thesis and examine its relevance at the subnational level. Using Census data and GIS techniques, we track the frontier throughout the 1790-1890 period and construct a novel, county-level measure of historical frontier experience. We document skewed sex ratios and other distinctive demographics of frontier locations, as well as their greater individualism (proxied by infrequent children names). Many decades after the closing of the frontier, counties with longer historical frontier experience exhibit more prevalent individualism and opposition to redistribution and regulation. We take several steps towards a causal interpretation, including an instrumental vari...