Publication Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



This paper proposes a framework for understanding the joint evolution of cultural norms and human capital investment, and how these affect patterns of political participation. We first present some empirical evidence that cultural attitudes towards obedience systematically influence an individual's propensity to engage in different political activities: obedience discourages more confrontational modes of political activity (such as public demonstrations), while raising participation in non-confrontational civic acts (such as voting). These cultural attitudes further appear to be determined in part by cultural transmission across generations. Motivated by this evidence, we develop a dynamic model in which human capital and obedience are both inputs in political and production activities. Individuals optimally choose how to allocate their human capital across these activities, taking their obedience levels as given. They also decide how much to invest in their child's human capital and the degree of obedience to imbue them with. In a baseline case in which the economy features only one traditional sector (say, production-line manufacturing) in which obedience raises productivity, we find that the steady state features a strict complementarily between obedience and human capital: depending on other exogenous forces such as the productivity of human capital, a country could end up in either an \East Asian" steady state of high obedience, high human capital, and relatively non-confrontational politics, or in a converse \Latin American" steady state. However, a richer set of results emerges when we introduce a second production sector (innovation) in which obedience is counter-productive. In particular, a steady state in which obedience is low but human capital levels are high is now possible. Our approach thus illustrates how cultural norms, human capital accumulation, and political participation evolve as the economy advances.


Culture, Obedience, Education, Human capital, Political participation, Confrontation


Behavioral Economics | Political Science | Politics and Social Change | Public Affairs

Research Areas

International Economics

City or Country

Harvard Kennedy School

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.