Saturday, 13 December 2008

500 years of ancestry determines your wealth

An amazing piece of research is published today in VoxEU.

Louis Putterman and David N. Weil have discovered that the proportion of a country's ancestry which lived in Europe in 1500 explains 44% of the variation in per-capita GDP in 2000.

This is a huge influence and should have a big impact in understanding how countries - and people - achieve economic success.

The VoxEU article speaks for itself really, so have a look.

Possible areas to follow up:
  • How is the migration distributed through time - for example if most emigration to the US happened in the 1800s, the dominant effect may not be 500 years old but only 150.
  • Today's ethnic classifications express only roughly the ancestry of individuals. How many ancestors do you have who were alive in 1500? The answer is: around a million (assuming 25-year generations and minimal inbreeding!). I don't think the survey purports to account for the fact that these people must have almost certainly come from more than one country.
  • As the authors suggest, the really interesting area is to try to work out what it is that is passed down from these ancestors which is expressed in today's GDP figures.

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