Genetic diversity and economic development


Jason Collins


September 12, 2012

Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor’s paper linking genetic diversity and economic development has been available as a working paper for a few years, but it has now found a home in the American Economic Review (the latest available version of the working paper that I am aware of is available here).

Science has picked up on the forthcoming publication is its editor’s choice section (unfortunately gated without subscription). Science summarises the results as follows:

Ashraf and Galor present the hypothesis that genetic diversity has exerted a long-lasting effect on economic development — which is quantified as population density in the precolonial era and as per-capita income for contemporary nations — beyond the influences of geography, institutions, and culture. They posit that intermediate levels of heterozygosity allow for a productive balance between the social costs of high diversity and the creative benefits of higher variance in cognitive skills. They show that the optimal level of diversity was approximately 0.68 in 1500 CE, and that this increased to 0.72 (which is pretty much where the United States sits) in the year 2000, with the most homogeneous country, Bolivia, placed at 0.63 and the most diverse country, Ethiopia, at 0.77.

I recommend reading the comments on Marginal Revolution where Tyler Cowen has noted the Science piece.

My posts on Ashraf and Galor’s paper on genetic diversity and economic growth are as follows. I will link to each below as I post them:

  1. A summary of the paper methodology and findings

  2. Does genetic diversity increase innovation?

  3. Does genetic diversity increase conflict?

  4. Is genetic diversity a proxy for phenotypic diversity?

  5. Is population density a good measure of technological progress?

  6. What are the policy implications of the effects of genetic diversity on economic development?

  7. Should this paper have been published?

Other debate on this paper can also be found hereherehere and here.