Family Ties and Political Participation
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Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1397173
H H I I E E R R
Harvard Institute of Economic Research
Discussion Paper Number 2171
Family Ties and Political Participation
Alberto Alesina and Paola Giuliano
This paper can be downloaded without charge from:
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1397173
Family Ties and Political Participation∗
Alberto Alesina and Paola Giuliano
Harvard University, Igier Bocconi and UCLA
We establish an inverse relationship between family ties, generalized
trust and political participation. The more individuals rely on the family
as a provider of services, insurance, transfer of resources, the lower is civic
engagement and political participation. The latter, together with trust,
are part of what is known as social capital, therefore in this paper we
contribute to the investigation of the origin and evolution of social capital
over time. We establish these results using within country evidence and
looking at the behavior of immigrants from various countries in 32 different
∗Prepared for the JEEA lecture, American Economic Assocition meeting, January 2008.
We thank Dorian Carloni and Giampaolo Lecce for excellent research assistanship.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1397173
Well functioning democracies need citizens’ participation in politics. Political
participation is a broader concept than simply voting in elections and it includes
a host of activities like volunteering as an unpaid campaign worker, debating
politics with others and attending political meetings like campaign appearances
of candidates, joining political groups, participating in boycott activities, strikes
or demonstrations, writing letters to representatives and so on.1What deter-
The purpose of this paper is to investigate an hypothesis put forward by
Banfield (1958) in his study of a Southern Italian village. He defines "amoral
familism" as a social equilibrium in which people trust (and care about) ex-
clusively their immediate family, expect everybody else to behave in that way
and therefore (rationally) do not trust non family members and do not expect
to be trusted outside the family2. He argues that "amoral familism" leads to
low civic engagement, low political participation and low generalized trust and
confidence in political institutions. As a result "amoral familism" prevented
the development of well functioning political institutions, created a situation
where politics was simply a private affair of those who controlled it; common
goods were completely disregarded and there was very little interest in partici-
pating in public affairs. In a similar vein, Putnam (1993) put forward the idea
that a national culture of strong family ties generates distrust in government
and parties. He also shows that these attitudes are extremely persistent. He
documents that in the regions of Italy where civic participation was low during
past decades, this participation did not increase significantly when the political
system decentralized, showing a strong persistence in political dissatisfaction.
This author goes back to events several hundred years old in Italian history to
explain these different attitudes.
In the present paper, we combine Putnam argument with Banfield story
attributing the dissatisfaction of political life and the low level of generalized
trust to family ties. This lack of political participation and generalized trust
is transmitted from parents to children: once acquired, political attitudes are
particularly stable and tend to remain fairly stable over time. Attitudes of
dissatisfaction with politics do not vary with the fortunes of specific parties
or candidates. In societies where trust is built overwhelmingly on the family,
modern democracy will face especially significant challenges if these negative
attitudes towards politics are transmitted from one generation to the next.
In Alesina and Giuliano (2007) we measured the strength of family ties,
that is the extent to which in different cultures family members are closely
tied together, using answers to survey questions. Amoral familism would be
the (pathological) extreme in the direction of strong family ties, so strong that
1Needless to say political participation can turn negative or even disastrous, just think of
insurrections which destroy democracy itself.
2It is indeed not a coincidence that Italian mafia clans identify themselves as "families";
trust within a family is a "must" and complete distrust for outsiders is a key ingredient of the
mafia organization. See Gambetta (1990).
they are the "only" social connection which matters.
we successfully test the idea that political participation and civic engagement
are inversely related to the closeness of family ties.
point in the direction of a correlation between strength of family ties and civic
engagement. In Northern European cultures, family ties are relatively low and
social capital, trust and political participation are high; the opposite holds for
Southern European cultures. A comparison of Northern and Southern Italy, a
widely studied country in the literature on social capital, points to the same
But, of course we go beyond these casual observations. First we establish
an inverse relationship between family ties and generalized trust. That is, the
more one can trust only family members the lower is generalized trust; in other
words strong family ties lead to a reduction in social capital. Then we establish
a negative correlation between the strength of family ties and political partici-
pation. The intuition is that the more people rely on the family as a provider
of services, insurance, transfer of resources, the lower is civic engagement and
political participation. The more the family is all that matters for an individ-
ual the less he/she will care about the rest of society and the polity. Political
participation, trust, and civic engagement are part of what is known as social
capital, therefore in this paper we contribute to the investigation of the origin
and evolution of social capital over time, a topic investigated in particular by
Putnam (1983, 2000) and Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales (2007).
Cultural values like the strength of family ties can be explanatory variables
of political participation if they are relatively slow moving. In fact, cultural val-
ues like the structure of the family are very stable over time as shown in many
different ways by Alesina and Giuliano (2007), Bertrand and Schoar (2006),
Reher (1998) and Todd (1985). The transmission of values regarding the fam-
ily relies on parents-children relationship: parents teach children values about
trusting the family only or trusting others more generally for instance. For a
recent discussion see Tabellini (2008) and Bisin and Verdier (2001).
We gather our evidence in two ways. One is using the World Value Survey.
We compare the effect of family ties within countries (i.e.
country fixed effects in addition to time dummies). Thus we do not rely on
capturing, say the differences between the average Norwegian and the average
Italian, a comparison which may be affected by a host of other variables which
differentiate the two countries.
The second source of evidence is a comparison of political participation
among second generation immigrants in 32 different destination countries. The
approach of studying immigrant behavior has been used in a growing litera-
ture on the economic effects of culture. Alesina and Giuliano (2007), Algan
and Cahuc (2009), Blau (1992), Carroll et al. (1994), Fernandez and Fogli
(2009), Giuliano (2007) and Luttmer and Singhal (2009) analyze the behav-
ior of immigrant groups to determine the effects of culture on female labor
In the present paper
Even casual observations
we always have
3Orizo (1996) also finds that in Spain the great majority of youth expresses little interest
in politics or in belonging to political organisations.
force participation, trust, fertility, savings, geographical mobility, preferences
for redistribution among many others4. Rather than using the United States as
unique destination country, in this paper we look at immigrants coming not only
from multiple source countries, but also going to multiple destination countries.
By comparing the relationship between family ties and political participation of
immigrants with different origin we further eliminate any effect emerging from
making cross country comparisons. By looking at immigrants going to multiple
destination countries, we also limit the scope for selection bias since we would
expect the form of selection to differ across different destination countries.5
Political participation is obviously not affected only by family ties; many
other factors are important. In particular we find that education is strongly
positively associated with participation, a result in line with Glaeser, Ponzetto
and Shleifer (2007) who stress the importance of education for maintaining
democratic institutions. Many other individual characteristics are in line with
what found on trust by Alesina and La Ferrara (2002)6. There is also a vast
literature in political science on what determines turnout in elections (see Merlo
(2006) and Wolfinger and Rosenstone (1980) for a review) but our emphasis here
is not specifically on turnout but on a broader definition of political engagement.
Before going any further we should stress that we are not implying that
family ties (perhaps with the exception of the extreme case of amoral familism)
are "bad". Closely connected families provide a host of home produced goods
and services which are of great value for family members, and it is not at all
clear that life satisfaction is lower with close family ties. In fact in Alesina and
Giuliano (2007) we present some evidence that shows that indeed life satisfaction
may be positively associated with strong family ties. This shows that the effect
of family relationships is complex and not unidirectional. Strong or weak family
ties are neither "bad" or "good" but they lead to different organizations of the
family and have different social implications.7In this paper we investigate the
effects of family ties on political participation. Interestingly, to the extent that
in some cases political participation may turn "ugly" it would be interesting
to check whether stronger family ties also imply fewer instances of negative
or hateful forms of political participation.
certain types of family structures are more or less compatible with more or
less desirable forms of political organization like dictatorships versus liberal
democracies. Further investigation of this point is left for future research.
The paper is organized as follows. In the next section we describe our data
and our measures of family ties and of political participation. In Section 3 we
present international evidence based upon the World Value Survey. In Section
4 we focus on immigrants. The last section concludes.
Todd (1985) argues that indeed
4See also the survey by Guiso et al. (2006) on the role of culture on economic outcomes.
5Note that to the extent that different cultures have different level of preferences for active
political participation, changes in the composition of the pool of immigrants may at least in
part explain the reduction in participation in social activities pointed out by Putnam (2000).
6The same authors (Alesina and La Ferrara (2004)) investigate the effect of racial frag-
mentation on participation in social activities finding a negative correlation between the two.
7See Esping Andersen (1999) for an illustration of the role of the family in different cultures
as a provider of social insurance.
2 Empirical strategy
We use two data sets, the World Value Survey and the European Social Survey.
The World Value Survey (WVS) is a compilation of national surveys on values
and norms on a wide variety of topics, carried out four times (1981-84, 1990-
1993, 1995-97 and 1999-2004.) The coverage varies depending on the wave. The
1981-1983 survey covered 22 countries, the 1990-1993 wave 42, the 1995-1997
wave 54 and, finally the last wave covered 81 countries. The questionnaires con-
tain information on different types of attitudes, religion and preferences, as well
as information on standard demographic characteristics (sex, age, education,
labor market status, income, etc.)
We also use data from three rounds of the European Social Survey (ESS), a
biennial cross-sectional survey administered in a large sample of mostly Euro-
pean nations. The survey was conducted in three waves, in 2002/2003, 2004/2005
and 2006/2007. Thirty-two countries participated in at least one round of the
survey (22 in the first, 26 in the second and 25 in the last one). The list of
countries for both the World Value Survey and the European Social Survey,
together with the demographic characteristics of our sample for both surveys
are given in Appendix, Tables 4, 5, 6 and 7.
For the European Social Survey our primary sample consists of immigrants;
we define immigrants as individuals born in a certain country but whose fathers
were born abroad. We associate to each immigrant the level of family ties in
the home country as measured by the average at the country level calculated
in the World Value Survey database. Summary statistics for second generation
immigrants are provided in Appendix, Tables 7 and 8. The sample provides
at least 13 observations per country of origin. The most representative groups
come from the Russian Federation (850 observations), followed by Germans,
Italians and Turkish. The respondents in our sample of second-generation are
on average 48 years old, 45 per cent are men, 14% of them have only primary
education, 5% of them are unemployed, 52% out of the labor force, with an
average family income of 5.908. Demographic characteristics and variables on
political participation, trust and attitudes toward society of immigrants are not
statistically different from those of natives.
Table 8 in the Appendix, also reports summary statistics of demographic
variables and political participation of immigrants by country. There is a lot of
heterogeneity across immigrant groups: Northern European countries tend to
have a higher level of trust and more interest in political participation. Southern
European groups are among the groups with the lowest level of trust and lower
interest in politics. Eastern European countries lie somewhere in between, on
the one hand they do show a low level of trust, on the other they do have a higher
interest in politics. Income level also varies a lot with Russian and immigrants
from Latvia in the lowest range and immigrants from Northern Europe, the UK
8Family income is coded on a scale from 1 to 12. A level of income equal to 6 corresponds
to an annual income between 18000 and 24000 euros.
and Canada among the richest.
2.1.1A measure of family ties
We measure the strength of family ties by looking at three WVS variables cap-
turing beliefs on the importance of the family in an individual’s life, the duties
and responsibilities of parents and children and the love and respect for one’s
own parents. The first question assesses how important the family is in one
person’s life and can take values from 1 to 4 (with 1 being very important and 4
not important at all). The second question asks whether the respondent agrees
with one of the two statements (taking the values of 1 and 2 respectively): 1)
Regardless of what the qualities and faults of one’s parents are, one must always
love and respect them, 2) One does not have the duty to respect and love parents
who have not earned it. The third question prompts respondents to agree with
one of the following statements (again taking the values of 1 or 2 respectively):
1) It is the parents’ duty to do their best for their children even at the expense
of their own well-being; 2) Parents have a life of their own and should not be
asked to sacrifice their own well being for the sake of their children.
We combine these measures in two ways. First we take the sum of all of them;
we recode the variables in a way that a higher number corresponds to stronger
family ties. Second, we extract the first principal component from the whole
data set with all individual responses for the original variables. Figure 1 displays
the values of our measure of the strength of family ties (expressed using the first
principal component) at the country level. The ranking of the different countries
is broadly consistent with perceptions and insights from the sociological and
political science literature. Germany, Netherlands and the Northern European
countries are the countries with the weakest ties, while African, Asian and Latin
American countries lie in the lowest range. Among OECD countries, we find
that Poland, US, Canada and Southern European countries (with the somewhat
surprising exception of Greece) are among the countries with the strongest ties,
while as before Northern Europe, Netherlands and Germany are the group with
the weakest ties. Note that the US is an average of very different levels of
family ties depending on the origin of the members of the "melting pot". The
weak family ties of many Central and Eastern European former communist
countries may be the result of Communist collectivist ideology and propaganda
(see Alesina and Fuchs-Schulden (2007)).9The analysis that follows, however,
will use only within country-evidence.
9One may wonder how these regional averages relate to economic development. We also
plot the residuals of a regression of family ties on the level of development of a country.
The regional order remains the same, with two exceptions: Southern Europe shows stronger
family ties than Latin America; moreover Eastern European countries appear to have weaker
ties than Northern Europeans, indicating that GDP per capita is not what is driving our
2.1.2 Dependent Variables
participation, such as general interest in politics and a variety of other indica-
tors of political action. Interest in politics is measured by the following three
questions. Variable 1, which we label "discuss political matters" is based on the
following question: "When you get together with your friends, would you say
you discuss political matters frequently, occasionally or never?" The variable
takes the values of 3 if participants report Frequently, 2 if they answer Occasion-
ally and 1 if the answer is Never. Variable 2, "Are you currently doing unpaid
voluntary work for political parties or groups?" is equal to 1 if the answer is
Yes and 0 Otherwise. The third variable indicates the general interest of the
person in politics and it is phrased as follows: "How interested would you say
you are in politics?" and the answer could take the following four values: Very
interested (4), Somewhat interested (3), Not very interested (2) and Not at all
Political action is measured by looking at the following questions: "Now I
am going to read out some different forms of political action that people can take,
and I would like to tell me, for each one, whether you have actually done any of
these things, whether you might do it or would never, under any circumstances,
do it", where the forms of political action are i) signing a petition, ii) joining in
boycotts, iii) attending lawful demonstrations, iv) joining unofficial strikes and
v) occupying buildings or factories. The answer for each form of political action
could take the following three values: Have done (3), Might do (2) and Would
never do (1). Note that each question is asked independently from another,
meaning the respondent is not supposed to respond at the same time about the
different forms of political participation.
The first group of variables contains measures of political
expect a strong association between family ties and the level of trust for his/her
own family, but a lower association with the level of generalized trust. This
was the essence of amoral familism. In order to capture these cultural features
of strong family ties, we consider the following questions. As a measure of
trust, the question is "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can
be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?" The answer
could be either Most people can be trusted (1) or Can’t be too careful (0).
To measure the trust in the family, we use the following question: "Could you
tell me how much you trust your family?", where the answer could take the
following values: Trust them completely (5), Trust them a little (4), Neither
trust or distrust them (3), Do not trust them very much (2), and Do not trust
them at all (1).
In studying the village of Chiaromonte in Southern Italy, Banfield (1958)
was also struck by the reluctance to change and resignation of the peasants of
that village so completely different from the attitudes of similar communities
in the US. The author also mentions that in these societies the role of parental
education is to teach children obedience, as nothing good usually comes from
According to Banfield and Putnam, we should
individual initiatives. To captures these cultural features of strong family ties,
we consider the following questions. As a measure of reluctance to change we
choose the following question: "On this card are three basic kinds of attitudes
concerning the society we live in. Please choose the one which best describes
your own opinion", Society must be radically changed (1), Society must be
gradually improved by reforms (2) and Society must be valiantly defended (3).
As a measure for obedience we consider the questions on the virtues that children
should be encouraged to learn at home10. The question assigns value 1 if the
respondent believes that obedience is important and zero if she does not mention
For our within-country empirical analysis, we run a series of OLS regressions of
the following type11:
Yijt= β0+ β1family_tiesijt+ β2Xijt+ β3γj+ δt+ ?ijt
where the left hand side variable Yijtrepresents the realization of a certain
variable for individual i in country j at time t, where time is given by the survey
wave. Family_tiesijtis our variable of interest and the value of this variable is
coded as increasing with the strength of family ties. Xijtare our controls. Our
choice of controls is standard and follows the relevant literature. In order to
eliminate the impact of other country characteristics, all the regressions include
country fixed effects, γj, which are likely to underestimate the effect of family
ties to the extent that their impact has been absorbed in the national culture.
We also include time effects, δt, to take into account general trends in values
over time. In spite of the inclusion of country fixed effects, we are well aware
of the difficulty in interpreting the observed correlations as causal effects. Our
results in this part can therefore be interpreted as mere correlations; whenever
we use the word "impact" or "effect" of family ties on political attitudes it is
only to simplify the exposition.
Our results on the relationship between family ties, political participation and
inward looking attitudes are reported in Tables 1 and 2. According to the
political science literature12, important determinants of political behavior are
demographic characteristics such as age, gender, race and especially education
and income. Education appears to be the most important determinant of polit-
ical interest as it is the best proxy for both information and civic virtues. The
effect of age can be ambiguous, on the one hand young people should be more
militant, on the other hand, life experience should increase one’s information
10Tabellini (2009) uses this question in a similar vein.
11We test the robustness of our results using ordered logit and nothing changes.
12See Wolfinger and Rosestone (1980) for a survey.
and retired people may have more time in their hands. According to the liter-
ature, marital status should not be such an important determinant of interest
in politics. Higher income households should be more interested in politics.
Interest in politics and political action should be more diffused among men.
The results reported in Table 1 are broadly in line with previous findings.
In our sample, interest in politics grows with income and education13. Men
are always more interested in politics and more active in political activity. The
relationship between interest in politics and age is u-shaped. Employed people
are more likely to discuss politics than people out of the labor force (the ex-
cluded group) and the unemployed. There is no difference for many measures
of political action between employed and the unemployed, on the other hand
unemployed people are more likely to participate in the occupation of build-
ings, as expected. Married and single people are more interested and tend to
discuss more about political matters than divorced people. On the other hand
married people are more reluctant to participate in political activism, contrary
to singles who are especially more likely to attend demonstrations. The most
likely interpretation is that singles have more time since they (generally) have
no children, and they may be more left leaning.14
Our variable on the strength of family ties is always significant with the
expected sign even after controlling for country and year fixed effects and the
whole range of individual controls. Individuals with strong family ties are con-
sistently less interested in politics and also less likely to participate to any form
of political activity from discussing politics to provide voluntary work for a po-
litical party to the most active forms of political participation, such as strikes,
demonstrations or signing a petition. The magnitude of the coefficients is not
negligible: moving from the lowest 5th percentile to the highest 5th percentile of
the strength of family ties is equivalent to the impact of belonging to the highest
income group of the income distribution and slightly smaller than the effect of
having only primary education relative to the highest level of education. The
impact is therefore substantial as income and education are the most important
determinants of political participation.
Table 2 shows results on inward looking attitudes. In particular, we show
evidence of a negative correlation between family ties and trust, but a positive
correlation between family ties and trust in the family. This negative association
between trusting the family and generalized trust, a critical component of social
capital has been the core of the amoral familism hypothesis of Banfield (1958).
That is the amoral familist equilibrium is an extreme version of a situation in
which trust for family members is absolute and mistrust of everybody else just
as strong. The impact of family ties on trust is also substantial, moving from the
lowest 5th percentile to the highest 5th percentile of the strength of family ties
is equivalent to almost double the effect of the impact of having only primary
education and of belonging to the highest level of the income distribution.
13The effect of education is consistent with the analysis of Glaeser, Ponzetto and Shleifer
(2007) on the role of education in sustaining democratic institutions and political participation.
14Also political activism related to gay group activities would be primarily performed by
We finally look at two other variables which should help to perpetuate amoral
familism across generations: these variables are obedience as one of the most
important values that should be transmitted to children and the reluctance
to change the society. Results are consistent with our prior: individuals with
strong family ties also think that children should be obedient and that society
should be valiantly defended and not radically changed.
on obedience strong family ties tend to persist15. The magnitude of the effect
is comparable to the impact of family ties on trust.
Given the emphasis
3 Evidence on immigrants
We now turn to evidence drawn from immigrants.
duction, several papers have used this approach to help establish causality and
to test whether cultural traits travel with people. That is, if immigrants behave
in their new country of residence as at home this shows two things. First, the
effect of family ties is not an artifact of differences across countries in institu-
tions, policies etc. Even though in the cross country evidence presented above
we always included country fixed effects it is still worth checking that family
ties matter when individuals coming from differenct countries of origin face the
same institutional and economic environment. Second, immigrants behave in
their new country of residence as at home; this shows that family ties stick to
people when they move. Obviously cultural assimilation does take place and an
important avenue for future research is to examine the speed of it16. The liter-
ature reviewed in the introduction generally looks at immigrants in the US17.
Here we consider immigrants in 32 destination countries, so our results cannot
be driven by some special features of a particular receiving country (the US).
Our sample consists of second generation immigrants, i.e. individuals born in a
given country and whose father was born abroad. We associate to each immi-
grant the measure of family ties constructed from the World Value Survey, i.e.
we associate to each immigrant living in one of the 32 countries of the survey
the average level of family ties of his/her country of origin.
As discussed in the intro-
We select similar types of questions on political interest, political action and
inward looking attitudes, however due to data availability the variables are in
some cases not the same. As measures of political attitudes we select the fol-
lowing questions. Three measures of time spent per week watching TV, reading
15Tabellini (2009) shows, using the same answer for the WWS, that reliance on obedience is
a component of cultural traits associated with lower level of development in European regions.
16For interesting empirical work on persistence of cultural traits see Guiso Sapienza and
Zingales (2009), and Tabellini (2008) for a model of cultural transmission of trust.
17Exceptions are Alesina and Giuliano (2007 and 2009) and Luttmer and Singhal (2008)
who also use evidence from the European Social Survey.
newspapers or listening to radio programmes about politics and current affairs.
The questions are as follows: " On a average weekday, how much of your time
watching television is spent watching news or programmes about politics and
current affairs", "On an average weekday, how much of your time listening to
the radio is spent listening to news or programmes about politics and current
affairs?", "On an average weekday, how much of your time is spent reading
newspapers about politics and current affairs?"; the answer to the three ques-
tions is coded in the following way: No time at all (0), Less than 0.5 hour (1),
0.5 hour to 1 hour (2), More than 1 hour, up to 1.5 hours (3), More than 1.5
hours, up to 2 hours (4), More than 2 hours, up to 2.5 hours (5), More than 2.5
hours, up to 3 hours (6), More than 3 hours (7). The fourth measure asks the
respondent "How interested are you in politics", and the answer can take three
values: Very interested (3), Quite interested (2) and Hardly interested (1).
We also select three questions of political action similar to the ones of the
World Value Survey. The questions are: "During the last 12 months, have
you done any of the following?" Signed a petition, taken part in a lawful public
demonstration and boycotted certain products?", and the answer is simply yes
or no. As in the World Value survey, there are three different questions for
each type of political activity. Note that this question is somehow different
than the World Value Survey, where the respondent was asked if he/she ever
did any of this action or if he/she could contemplate doing it. The answer to
the European Social Survey is much more demanding as it asks the respondent
about the actual action in the last 12 months.
3.1.2Inward looking attitudes
As a measure of inward looking attitudes we chose the following questions:
a standard measure on generalized trust "Using this card, generally speaking,
would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful
in dealing with people? Please tell me on a score of 0 to 10, where 0 means
you can’t be too careful and 10 means that most people can be trusted". The
European Social Survey does not have any question on obedience as an impor-
tant value to be transmitted to children, therefore we choose a question that
should pick up more or less obedience and reluctance to change. We select the
following question: "Now I will briefly describe some people. Please listen to
each description and tell me how much each person is or is not like you. She/he
believes that people should do what they are told. She/he thinks people should
follow rules at all times, even when no-one is watching", the answer could be
Very much like me (6), Like me (5) and Somewhat like me (4), A little like me
(3), Not like me (2), Not like me at all (1).
For consistency with the regressions of the previous section, we run the following
model in OLS regressions18:
18As before, we also run ordered logit and our results do not change.
Yikc= α0+ α1family_tiesk+ α2Xi+ δc+ εikc
where Yikcis the left hand side of interest for individual i, living in coun-
try c and whose father comes from country k.
family_tieskis our measure of the strength of family ties which varies by im-
migrant’s country of origin and δcis a full set of country of residence dummies.
Standard errors are clustered at the country of origin level.
Xi are individual controls,
In Table 3, we test for the effects of family ties on political interest, political
action and inward looking attitudes among immigrants. We find a strong effect
of family ties on almost all variables of interest. Immigrants coming from coun-
tries with strong family ties tend to follow less political events (the coefficients
on following politics on TV, the radio or the newspapers is always negative
and significant with the exception of watching political news on TV) and are
generally less interested in politics.
The results for political activism are a bit weaker than the within country
analysis. One possibility, as mentioned above, is that the definition of political
activism is much more strict in the ESS compared to the WVS as it asks re-
spondents whether they were involved in these forms of political action in the
last 12 months. Also immigrants can be a bit more reluctant to be involved in
this type of political action in a foreign country as this could have some effects
on the residence status of their families.
We find a very strong result on the impact of family ties on generalized
level of trust. Together with the work of Todd (1985) this result highlights the
importance of the family in determining individuals’ ideology and social values
and attitudes. Finally, strong family ties immigrants tend to follow rules more
strictly than immigrants coming from weak family ties countries. The results
on immigrants are similar in magnitude to the results on the within country
analysis: moving from the lowest 5th percentile to the highest 5th percentile
of the strength of family ties has the same effect of having primary education.
The results on trust are particularly telling as in this case the impact of moving
from the lowest 5th percentile to the highest 5th percentile of the strength of
family ties is almost three times as large as the impact of having only primary
education relative to the excluded group of higher education.
The other variables affect political participation and inward looking attitudes
in the expected direction. Higher income households are more interested in
politics (with the exception of listening to political programs on the radio for
which income has a negative effect), similarly for individuals with a higher level
of education. Higher income households also tend to trust more and follow rules
less; education has the same effect. As before, men tend to be more interested
in politics (although in the ESS they are less likely to sign a petition), trust
more and follow rule less. As before and consistently with the literature on
political participation, marital status is not a relevant determinant of political
Strong family ties are associated with, and possibly "cause", lack of generalized
trust. In addition, individuals with strong family ties do not engage much in
political activity, and are less interested in public policies, the common good and
the polity in general. An extreme version of strong family ties is the "amoral
familism" which, according to Banfield (1958) was a major determinant of un-
derdevelopment. The strength of family ties could then reduce social capital
and as a result have an important effect on economic development.
We have established these results with two sets of regressions. One involv-
ing within country comparisons of individuals using data drawn from the World
Value Survey. It is worth stressing again that we always include fixed effects
in our regressions, so our results do not depend on comparing, say, the average
Swede with the average Italian.Second, considering the behavior of immi-
grants who have moved in 32 different destination countries. We confirm the
relationship between family ties, trust and political participation even amongst
immigrants and independently of the destination country.
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