Agrarian Origins of Indivualism and Collectivism

Posted by M. Fiszbein, Y. Jung, and D. Vollrath on January 17, 2022 · 1 min read

Abstract: We study the influence of agricultural labor intensity on individualism across U.S. counties. To measure historical labor intensity in agriculture we combine data on crop-specific labor requirements and county-specific crop mix around 1900. To address endogeneity we exploit climate-induced variation in crop mix. Our estimates indicate that an increase of one standard deviation in labor intensity is associated with a reduction of 0.2-0.4 standard deviations in individualism (as captured by the share of children with infrequent names). We further document consistent patterns using within-county changes in labor intensity over time due to both mechanization and the boll weevil shock. While culture transformed in response to changes in labor intensity, we also find that historical agricultural patterns had a lasting imprint that influences geographic variation in individualism today.