nep-evo New Economics Papers
on Evolutionary Economics
Issue of 2016‒09‒18
three papers chosen by
Matthew Baker
City University of New York

  1. You Reap What You Know: Darwin beats Malthus: Medicalization, Evolutionary Anthropology and the Demographic Transition By Katharina Mühlhoff
  2. Long-Run Development and the New Cultural EconomicsS By Boris Gershman
  3. Virtual reality experiments in economics By Alessandro Innocenti

  1. By: Katharina Mühlhoff (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)
    Abstract: For the better part of human history, life was most fragile and death most imminent during infancy and early childhood. The death of a child may be hardly bearable from a humanitarian perspective. Yet, certain currents in economic theory attach a silver lining to high mortality by claiming that the Malthusian check on population raises per capita income and facilitates the accumulation of capital. The present paper challenges this conventional wisdom. In essence, it argues that high levels of environmental risk produce genetic and behavioral adaptations which induce individuals to have many - in terms of parental investment - cheap offspring. Conversely, stable environments recast the tradeoff between child quantity and quality in favor of more quality-based reproductive strategies. Incorporating these biological relationships into the traditional Barro-Becker model of fertility, the paper finds that both declining extrinsic mortality and increased effectiveness of parenting effort potentially trigger a demographic transition. Thus, the economic benefits of Malthusian population checks are mitigated because high mortality endogenously produces high fertility whereas improved survival encourages human capital investment and fosters long-term growth. To assess whether the theoretical predictions conform with historical reality, I use smallpox vaccination in 19th century Germany as a natural experiment. Performing an econometric analysis of 67 districts in the Granduchy of Baden provides evidence, that comprehensive immunization and advanced medicalization came along with reduced mortality, significantly lower fertility and increased parental care. In sum, it therefore seems that Malthusian mechanisms are at least partly offset by countervailing biological adaptations.
    Keywords: Demographic Transition, Evolutionary Anthropology, Life History Theory, Economic Growth
    JEL: I12 I15 N13 N33 O44
    Date: 2016–09
  2. By: Boris Gershman
    Abstract: This paper reviews recent economics literature on culture, with an emphasis on its relation to the field of long-run growth and development. It examines the key issues debated in the new cultural economics: causal effects of culture on economic outcomes, the origins and social costs of culture, as well as cultural transmission, persistence, and change. Some of these topics are illustrated in application to the economic analysis of envy-related culture.
    Keywords: Culture, cultural persistence, cultural transmission, long-run development
    JEL: J15 O10 Z10 Z12 Z13
    Date: 2016
  3. By: Alessandro Innocenti
    Abstract: The paper provides a review of research using virtual reality as a tool in experimental economics. It addresses the question of whether behavior in virtual environments is a valuable source of empirical evidence for economists. A typology of virtual reality experiments based on the difference between low-immersive (LIVE) and high-immersive virtual environments (HIVE) is offered. It is argued that virtual reality experiments are framed field experiments, which allow testing the effect of contextual cues on economic decision-making under the strict control of the experimenter. This feature enhances replicability and attenuates the context-free illusion that represents an important limitation of the standard laboratory approach in economics.
    Keywords: virtual reality, experimental economics, laboratory methods, virtual worlds, immersive environments.
    JEL: B41 C90 C93
    Date: 2015–11

This nep-evo issue is ©2016 by Matthew Baker. It is provided as is without any express or implied warranty. It may be freely redistributed in whole or in part for any purpose. If distributed in part, please include this notice.
General information on the NEP project can be found at For comments please write to the director of NEP, Marco Novarese at <>. Put “NEP” in the subject, otherwise your mail may be rejected.
NEP’s infrastructure is sponsored by the School of Economics and Finance of Massey University in New Zealand.