Darwin’s Nightmare

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Evolutionary biology works in mysterious ways in affecting economic outcomes. Look at the following paper on the effect of orphanhood in a poor region of Tanzania ;

“This paper provides unique evidence on the long-term impact of orphanhood in a region of Tanzania, near Lake Victoria in an area ravaged by HIVAIDS….

We find significant permanent effects. Children who become maternal orphans before the age of 15 are 2 cm shorter in adulthood than similar children whose mother did not die during this age interval, representing 22 percent of one standard deviation of height in the sample. We also find that maternal and paternal orphanhood results in substantially lower educational attainment, each lowering years of education by adulthood by about a quarter of one standard deviation of educational attainment in the sample…”

In another study Estho Duflo finds peculiar evidence related to health outcomes of children living with grandmothers;

“In the early 1990's, the benefits and coverage of the South African social pension program were expanded for the black population. In 1993, the benefits were about twice the median income per capita in rural areas. Over a quarter of black South African children under age five live with a pension recipient. My estimates suggest that pensions received by women had a large impact on the anthropometric status of girls (it improved their weight given height by 1.19 standard deviations, and their height given age by 1.16 standard deviations), but little effect on that of boys. In contrast, I found no similar effect for pensions received by men. This suggests that the household does not function as a unitary entity, and that they efficiency of public transfer programs may depend on the gender of the recipient.”

In Europe the Dutch are considered the giants, men being on average 6 feet tall; they used to be only about 5 foot 4 in the mid 19th century.

So what does this all mean for economics; biology and neuroscience needs to be seriously studied by economists. As Hayek had once said, ‘an economist who is only an economist cannot be a good economist.’

Related Links:

- Foreign Exchange TV, hosted by Fareed Zaakaria, reviews the recent documentary Darwin’s Nightmare. All the programs are available on the web and are highly recommended focusing mainly on current affairs and development.

- The latest Science Show from Radio National discusses economics and brain science and the relations between spoons and human nature. The podcast is available for a few weeks, so download now.

- Can studying the human brain revolutionise economics?

- Two related blogs posts that I wrote earlier; Phantoms in the Mind and Why Do Magicians Hate Children.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on March 26, 2006 11:12 PM.

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