Is There a Link between Economic Outcomes and Genetic Evolution? Cross-Country Evidence from the Major Histocompatibility Complex

58 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2005

See all articles by José A.M. Borghans

José A.M. Borghans

University of Utrecht - Wilhelmina Children's Hospital

Lex Borghans

Maastricht University - Department of Economics; University of Maastricht - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Bas ter Weel

University of Amsterdam - SEO Economic Research; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Date Written: November 2005

Abstract

This research develops a theory and presents empirical evidence of a link between economic outcomes and genetic evolution. Important properties for successful analysis of such a link are found in the adaptive immune system and particularly in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a genetically encoded complex involved in the defence against infections. The theory incorporates properties of the MHC in a model of mutual dependence and exhibits a trade-off in which every agent who is better off having an immune response different from that of others is also part of the protecting belt of others in a population, in which mounting similar immune responses is optimal. The data are based on large numbers of blood samples from 63 different populations. The cross-country estimates show a robust negative association between economic and health outcomes and MHC diversity and between average offers in ultimatum and trust games and MHC diversity. The analyses suggest that societies incorporating externalities from mutual dependence are economically more successful, and that the incorporation of such externalities is evident at the gene level.

Keywords: genetic evolution, human cooperation, economic outcomes

JEL Classification: O10, I10, C90

Suggested Citation

Borghans, José A.M. and Borghans, Lex and ter Weel, Bas, Is There a Link between Economic Outcomes and Genetic Evolution? Cross-Country Evidence from the Major Histocompatibility Complex (November 2005). IZA Discussion Paper No. 1838, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=857164

José A.M. Borghans

University of Utrecht - Wilhelmina Children's Hospital ( email )

Vredenburg 138
NL-3508 TC Utrecht, 3511 BG
Netherlands

Lex Borghans

Maastricht University - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200 MD
Netherlands

University of Maastricht - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, MD6200
Netherlands

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Bas Ter Weel (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam - SEO Economic Research ( email )

Roetersstraat 29
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

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