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All in the family: why non-democratic leaders have more children

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Economists have come to learn that politics matters. But survival matters the most to those involved in politics. We provide a theory whereby non-benevolent, non-democratic leaders increase their expected family size to raise the likelihood that a child will be a match at continuing the regime’s survival. As a consequence, having a larger family size raises the non-democratic leader’s expected rents that they can exploit from the citizenry. In contrast, democratic leaders have a lower desire to appropriate rents from the citizenry, and therefore have a diminished desire to have additional children for these purposes. We construct a data set of the number of children of country leaders as of August 31, 2005. We find that in a sample of 221 country leaders, fully non-democratic leaders have approximately 1.5–2.5 more actual children as compared to if they are fully democratic. This empirical relationship is established controlling for a full array of country specific as well as individual specific variables. Our finding also continues to hold when using alternative measures of family size.

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Correspondence to Gregory D. Hess.

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This paper has been prepared for a conference honoring Herschel I. Grossman at Brown University in April of 2006. We thank our discussant, Murat Iyigun, an anonymous referee, Michelle Garfinkel and conference participants for excellent suggestions.

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Beckett, D., Hess, G.D. All in the family: why non-democratic leaders have more children. Economics of Governance 9, 65–85 (2008).

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