Three Essays on Ancestry and Political Economy

Daniel G. Solon

Advisor: Garett Jones, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Jonathan Schulz, Tyler Cowen

Online Location, Online
April 24, 2023, 03:00 PM to 05:00 PM


Recent literature has recognized the importance of ancestry and deep roots for economic growth. One of the important channels by which these factors affect economic growth is through their effect on political institutions. Using U.S. ancestral county data presents the opportunity to study the effects of a diverse number of ancestries on a wide variety of political outcomes in a similar environment.  This dissertation explores the ways in which these factors affect political outcomes and how these political outcomes affect economic growth.

Chapter 1 summarizes literature on the topic and designs new deep roots measures for U.S. counties to measure their importance for economic growth. These measures include technological adoption rates, Kin Network Intensity Index, and adoption of settled agriculture.

Chapter 2 takes these measures along with those developed by Fulford, Petkov, and Schiantarelli (2020) and considers their effect on election returns and local government spending. Looking at every election from 1900-2010, I run a fixed effects model to show that ancestral trust, technological adoption, state history, and home country GDP have a large effect on the voting patterns of U.S. counties. These results are robust to a host of controls for the factor of race and IVs. My study of local government financing covers the period from 1970 to 2010. These results indicate that our ancestral variables have a positive relationship with the level of local government spending but a negative relationship with government spending as a fraction of local GDP. High trust ancestries are more likely to spend a larger fraction of their budget on welfare assistance.

Chapter 3 seeks to ascertain how these factors affect local economic growth through the public sphere while holding these same factors constant within the private sphere. Are changes in ancestry within the lawmaker population important independent of ancestry change in the general population? To answer this, I designed a unique data set on the members of state legislators across the U.S. I then use surname data to estimate each legislator’s ancestry. This allows me to see the effect of changing ancestry within state legislatures on a county’s economic growth while controlling for county ancestry. My fixed effects results indicate that trust and state history within legislatures are independently important for local economic growth.