Research

Those Who Stayed: Individualism, Self-Selection and Cultural Change during the Age of Mass Migration
January 2019
Media: Weekendavisen, Financial Times Alphaville, Medium
Abstract

This paper examines the joint evolution of emigration and individualism in Scandinavia during the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1920). A long-standing hypothesis holds that people of a stronger individualistic mindset are more likely to migrate as they suffer lower costs of abandoning existing social networks. Building on this hypothesis, I propose a theory of cultural change where migrant self-selection generates a relative push away from individualism, and towards collectivism, in migrant-sending locations through a combination of initial distributional effects and channels of intergenerational cultural transmission. Due to the interdependent relationship between emigration and individualism, emigration is furthermore associated with cultural convergence across subnational locations. I combine various sources of empirical data, including historical population census records and passenger lists of emigrants, and test the relevant elements of the proposed theory at the individual and subnational district level, and in the short and long run. Together, the empirical results suggest that individualists were more likely to migrate than collectivists, and that the Scandinavian countries would have been considerably more individualistic and culturally diverse, had emigration not taken place.

The Intergenerational Transmission of Individualism: Evidence across Millions of Historical European Families
(paper coming soon)
Abstract

Theoretical work has long proposed that cultural traits are passed along from parents to children and influenced by other role models in society. This paper examines the transmission of individualistic cultural traits across and between more than four million North European families that I observe in historical population census records from the period 1703-1910. I find that parents adhere to the cultural values inherited from their childhood homes and pass them on to their own
children. The transmission is not perfect and parents appear to be influenced by the average cultural traits of the surrounding population. I provide evidence of circumstances that strengthen the transmission process, including interfamily  characteristics and minority status. This suggests that parents actively socialize their children, but are in possession of limited resources and view socialization by society as a substitute. Findings on marriage, settlement, and fertility patterns support these interpretations.

The Bounty of the Sea and Long-Run Development (with Carl-Johan Dalgaard and Pablo Selaya)
October 2017, online appendix
Media: Weekendavisen
Abstract

We document that a high level of natural productivity of the ocean – a rich bounty of the sea – has had a persistently positive impact on economic development: societies inhabited by people who descend from regions with eco-climatic conditions  supporting a highly productive ocean are more prosperous today. We argue that an explanation is that a rich bounty of the sea facilitated early coastal settlements, which ultimately created a pre-industrial occupational structure that benefited long term economic development. Specifically, we propose that societies that were more coastally oriented during the pre-industrial era were characterized by a less agrarian occupational structure, and thereby gained more experience in non-agricultural production. In the long run, this produced capabilities that were complementary to industrialization, and allowed for an early take-off to growth.