Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 109–136 | Cite as

Parasitical cultures? The cultural origins of institutions and development

  • Robbert MaselandEmail author


Do cultural attitudes affect institutions and economic performance? This paper suggests they do. To measure the impact of cultural attitudes we use prevalence rates of the common parasite Toxoplasma gondii which is known to affect individual attitudes and societal values in predictable ways. By using prevalence rates of Toxoplasma as instrument for cultural variation, we are able to isolate the effects of cultural attitudes on institutions, distinguishing them from effects of institutions and economic outcomes on culture. We find that our indicators of cultural attitudes are significant determinants of institutional quality, and strong predictors of long-run economic performance.


Economic development Institutions Culture Pathogens 

JEL Classification

O43 Z10 N4 



We thank Lee Benham, Sjoerd Beugelsdijk, Eelke de Jong, Sonja Opper, Harry Garretsen, participants of the ISNIE 2011 Conference at Stanford University, seminar participants at the University of Lund, Oded Galor and two anonymous reviewers for their support and useful comments. Technical assistance by Dimitrios Soudis is greatly appreciated. All views expressed in this paper are the author’s alone.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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