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Article

Nikolaus Robalino and Arthur Robson

Modern economic theory rests on the basic assumption that agents’ choices are guided by preferences. The question of where such preferences might have come from has traditionally been ignored or viewed agnostically. The biological approach to economic behavior addresses the issue of the origins of economic preferences explicitly. This approach assumes that economic preferences are shaped by the forces of natural selection. For example, an important theoretical insight delivered thus far by this approach is that individuals ought to be more risk averse to aggregate than to idiosyncratic risk. Additionally the approach has delivered an evolutionary basis for hedonic and adaptive utility and an evolutionary rationale for “theory of mind.” Related empirical work has studied the evolution of time preferences, loss aversion, and explored the deep evolutionary determinants of long-run economic development.

Article

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen

Economics of religion is the application of economic methods to the study of causes and consequences of religion. Ever since Max Weber set forth his theory of the Protestant ethic, social scientists have compared socioeconomic differences across Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Christians, and more recently across different intensities of religiosity. Religiosity refers to an individual’s degree of religious attendance and strength of beliefs. Religiosity rises with a growing demand for religion resulting from adversity and insecurity or a surging supply of religion stemming from increasing numbers of religious organizations, for instance. Religiosity has fallen in some Western countries since the mid-20th century, but has strengthened in several other societies around the world. Religion is a multidimensional concept, and religiosity has multiple impacts on socioeconomic outcomes, depending on the dimension observed. Religion covers public religious activities such as church attendance, which involves exposure to religious doctrines and to fellow believers, potentially strengthening social capital and trust among believers. Religious doctrines teach belief in supernatural beings, but also social views on hard work, refraining from deviant activities, and adherence to traditional norms. These norms and social views are sometimes orthogonal to the general tendency of modernization, and religion may contribute to the rising polarization on social issues regarding abortion, LGBT rights, women, and immigration. These norms and social views are again potentially in conflict with science and innovation, incentivizing some religious authorities to curb scientific progress. Further, religion encompasses private religious activities such as prayer and the particular religious beliefs, which may provide comfort and buffering against stressful events. At the same time, rulers may exploit the existence of belief in higher powers for political purposes. Empirical research supports these predictions. Consequences of higher religiosity include more emphasis on traditional values such as traditional gender norms and attitudes against homosexuality, lower rates of technical education, restrictions on science and democracy, rising polarization and conflict, and lower average incomes. Positive consequences of religiosity include improved health and depression rates, crime reduction, increased happiness, higher prosociality among believers, and consumption and well-being levels that are less sensitive to shocks.

Article

Between 1850 and 1920, during the Age of Mass Migration, more than 30 million Europeans moved to the United States. European immigrants provided an ample supply of cheap labor as well as specific skills and know-how, contributing to American economic growth. These positive effects were not short-lived, but are still evident in the 21st century: areas of the United States that received more European immigrants during the Age of Mass Migration have higher income per capita, a more educated population, and lower poverty rates. Despite its economic benefits, immigration triggered hostile political reactions, which were driven by cultural differences between immigrants and natives, and culminated in the introduction of country-specific quotas. In contrast to the concerns prevailing at the time, European immigrants eventually assimilated. The process was facilitated by the inflow of 1.5 million African Americans who left the rural South to move to northern and western cities between 1915 and 1930. Black in-migration increased the salience of skin color, as opposed to that of religion and nativity, as a defining feature of in- and out-groups of the society. This reduced the perceived distance between native whites and European immigrants, thereby facilitating the integration of the latter. European immigrants also had long-lasting effects on American ideology. Parts of the country that hosted more immigrants during the Age of Mass Migration have a more liberal ideology and stronger preferences for redistribution well into the 21st century. This resulted from the transmission of political ideology from (more left-leaning) immigrants to natives.