The Economic Incentives of Cultural Transmission: Spatial Evidence from Naming Patterns across France

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IZA Seminar

Place: Schaumburg-Lippe-Str. 9, 53113 Bonn

Date: 23.04.2013, 12:15 - 13:30


Presentation by 

Mathias Thoenig (University of Lausanne)


This paper aims at studying how economic incentives influence cultural transmission. We do so in the context of naming decisions, a crucial expression of cultural identity. Our focus is on Arabic versus Non-Arabic names given by parents to their newborn babies in France over the 2003-2007 period. Our model of cultural transmission disentangles between three determinants: (i) vertical transmission of parental culture; (ii) horizontal influence from the neighborhood; (iii) economic penalty associated with names that sound culturally distinctive. Our identification is based on the sample of households being exogenously allocated across public housings dwellings. We find that economic incentives largely influence naming choices: In the absence of economic penalty, the annual number of babies born with an Arabic name would have been more than 50 percent larger. Our theory-based estimates allow us to perform a welfare analysis where we gauge the strength of cultural attachment in monetary units. We find that the vertical transmission of an Arabic name provides the same shift in parents' utility as a 3% rise in lifetime income of the child.

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