How far can cultural differences be traced back?

Cultural differences between countries are quite large, and likely affect differences in economic development. But how did these differences arise in the first place? Consider recent history: it’s not a stretch to believe that Europeans who immigrated to the US were generally individualistic, adventurous, entrepreneurial people who potentially did not fit in well with their existing society; they were possibly non-conformist, less obedient that those who stayed.

Values such as individualism, innovativeness and entrepreneurialism gave these immigrants an edge in the longer term, and this made the US very successful, even relative to Europe. Can such a story apply over the much longer term? Can it explain how cultures diverged thousands of years ago?

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Is fear of immigration fueled by facts or ignorance?

Are the views of anti-immigrant people shaped by reality, or are they merely opposed to something they don’t know anything about? I attempt to answer this question in this post on an international level. I look at how attitudes towards immigration vary by country.

If it is the countries with few immigrants that are against immigration, then we could reasonably conclude that fear of immigration is driven by speculation and ignorance. As people in low immigration countries have very little experience with immigration. If, however, it is countries with many immigrants that are more against immigration, then we could conclude that the fear of immigration is more evidence- or experience-based.

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Culture and trust in institutions

This post showcases an interesting, rather contrived way in which institutions can affect culture. Suppose a person moves from a country with bad institutions to a country with good ones. This person was raised on bad institutions. How will she then react to this new situation that institutions are relatively good/inclusive?

There are two possibilities: either (i) she will transmit her attitudes towards institutions from the origin country and be distrustful, or (ii) she will have great expectations from the new institutions and will tend to overtrust them. Which one of these prevails?

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A Cultural Distance Matrix

In this post I introduce a dataset that I developed recently. The dataset is simply a matrix of 77 countries of the world that shows how close each country pair is in terms of cultural values. Values are measured by answers to the World Values Survey.

The online version of the dataset can be found here, and you can download a .csv version here. The values of cultural distance have been normalized to be between 0 and 1, where 0 is complete agreement on all questions and 1 is complete disagreement on all questions.

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What are your cultural values?

Have you ever wondered which country fits your cultural and other values best? Where do people think the most like you? Even if you never thought about these questions, you might be interested in the answer. If yes, do read on.

To put it short, based on the World Values Survey‘s questions and results, I developed an online questionnaire that compares your answers to various questions with what people all over the world responded to the very same questions. Without any further due, here is the link to the questionnaire. Enjoy. Below I detail the methodology behind the questionnaire for those interested.

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Personality, academic success and culture

It is an intuitive idea to think that personality has an effect on academic success. After all, some people can plan better, others are distracted easily, yet others might be intelligent but cannot “follow the book”. One would think all these are correlated with academic success.

The answer is indeed yes. Various studies have found significant relationships between personality and academic success. But how do these relationships arise? What traits are correlated with success? Is there a one-size-fits-all rule or does it depend on the environment, field-of-study or age?

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