Economists increasingly highlight the role that human capital formation, institutions and cultural transmission may play in shaping health, knowledge and wealth. We study one of the most remarkable instances in which religious norms and childcare practices had a major impact: the history of the Jews in central and eastern Europe from 1500 to 1930. We show that while birth rates were about the same, infant and child mortality among Jews was much lower and accounted for the main difference in Jewish versus non-Jewish natural population growth. Jewish families routinely adopted childcare practices that recent medical research has shown as enhancing children's well-being.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This article summarises the Economic Journal Lecture entitled ‘Nature or Nurture? Insights from Jewish History’ presented by Maristella Botticini at the 2018 Royal Economic Society conference at Sussex University. Two lengthy Appendices presenting detailed information on data collection and analysis are available on Zvi Eckstein’s website at http://www1.idc.ac.il/Faculty/Eckstein/jewish history 1500.html. We are grateful to Dima Kolotilenko and Stas Tarasov for their excellent research assistance in many tasks related to this project. We also thank Joachim Voth and an anonymous referee for their insightful remarks that greatly improved the article. We owe a lot to Tali Berner, Flavio Cunha, Sergio DellaPergola, Avner Greif, Judith Kalik, Jonathan Karp, Aviad Kleinberg, Joel Mokyr, Yochanan Petrovski-Stern, Moshe Rosman, Noga Rubin, Tamar Salmon-Mack, Merav Schnitzer, Shaul Stampfer, Adam Teller, Kenneth Wolpin and Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk for their generous advices and helpful comments. Financial support from the Israeli Science Foundation (grant no. 1401/2012) and the Pinhas Sapir Center for Development, Tel Aviv University, is gratefully acknowledged. The usual disclaimers apply.
© 2019 Royal Economic Society.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Economics and Econometrics