At the Local Level

Kevin Lewis

September 22, 2020

Rugged Individualism and Collective (In)action During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein & Mesay Gebresilasse
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


Rugged individualism — the combination of individualism and anti-statism — is a prominent feature of American culture with deep roots in the country’s history of frontier settlement. Today, rugged individualism is more prevalent in counties with greater total frontier experience (TFE) during the era of westward expansion. While individualism may be conducive to innovation, it can also undermine collective action, with potentially adverse social consequences. We show that America’s frontier culture hampered the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across U.S. counties, greater TFE is associated with less social distancing and mask use as well as weaker local government effort to control the virus. We argue that frontier culture lies at the root of several more proximate explanations for the weak collective response to public health risks, including a lack of civic duty, partisanship, and distrust in science.

Individualism During Crises
Bo Bian et al.
University of Virginia Working Paper, August 2020


Individualism has long been linked to economic growth. Using the COVID-19 pandemic, we show that such a culture can hamper the economy’s response to crises, a period with heightened coordination frictions. Exploiting variation in US counties’ frontier experience, we show that more individualist counties engage less in social distancing and charitable transfers, two important collective actions during the pandemic. The effect of individualism is stronger where social distancing has higher externality and holds at the individual level when we exploit migrants for identification. Our results suggest that individualism can amplify economic downturns by exacerbating collective action problems.

Relational Mobility Predicts Faster Spread of COVID-19: A 39-Country Study
Cristina Salvador et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


It has become increasingly clear that COVID-19 is transmitted between individuals. It stands to reason that the spread of the virus depends on sociocultural ecologies that facilitate or inhibit social contact. In particular, the community-level tendency to engage with strangers and freely choose friends, called relational mobility, creates increased opportunities to interact with a larger and more variable range of other people. It may therefore be associated with a faster spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Here, we tested this possibility by analyzing growth curves of confirmed cases of and deaths due to COVID-19 in the first 30 days of the outbreaks in 39 countries. We found that growth was significantly accelerated as a function of a country-wise measure of relational mobility. This relationship was robust either with or without a set of control variables, including demographic variables, reporting bias, testing availability, and cultural dimensions of individualism, tightness, and government efficiency. Policy implications are also discussed.

Perinatal Health among 1 Million Chinese-Americans
Douglas Almond & Yi Cheng
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


The literature on "missing girls" suggests a net preference for sons both in China and among Chinese immigrants to the West. Perhaps surprisingly, we find that newborn Chinese-American girls are treated more intensively in US hospitals: they are kept longer following delivery, have more medical procedures performed, and have more hospital charges than predicted (by the non-Chinese gender difference). What might explain more aggressive medical treatment? We posit that hospitals are responding to worse health at birth of Chinese-American girls. We document higher rates of low birth weight, congenital anomalies, maternal hypertension, and lower APGAR scores among Chinese Americans girls – outcomes recorded prior to intensive neonatal medical care and relative to the non-Chinese gender gap. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to find that son preference may also compromise "survivor" health at birth. On net, compromised newborn health seems to outweigh the benefit of more aggressive neonatal hospital care for girls. Relative to non-Chinese gender differences, death on the first day of life and in the post-neonatal period is more common among Chinese-American girls, i.e. later than sex selection is typically believed to occur.

Physical topography is associated with human personality
Friedrich Götz et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming


Regional differences in personality are associated with a range of consequential outcomes. But which factors are responsible for these differences? Frontier settlement theory suggests that physical topography is a crucial factor shaping the psychological landscape of regions. Hence, we investigated whether topography is associated with regional variation in personality across the United States (n = 3,387,014). Consistent with frontier settlement theory, results from multilevel modelling revealed that mountainous areas were lower on agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness but higher on openness to experience. Conditional random forest algorithms confirmed mountainousness as a meaningful predictor of personality when tested against a conservative set of controls. East–west comparisons highlighted potential differences between ecological (driven by physical features) and sociocultural (driven by social norms) effects of mountainous terrain.

Big data methods, social media, and the psychology of entrepreneurial regions: Capturing cross-county personality traits and their impact on entrepreneurship in the USA
Martin Obschonka et al.
Small Business Economics, October 2020, Pages 567–588


There is increasing interest in the potential of artificial intelligence and Big Data (e.g., generated via social media) to help understand economic outcomes. But can artificial intelligence models based on publicly available Big Data identify geographical differences in entrepreneurial personality or culture? We use a machine learning model based on 1.5 billion tweets by 5.25 million users to estimate the Big Five personality traits and an entrepreneurial personality profile for 1772 US counties. The Twitter-based personality estimates show substantial relationships to county-level entrepreneurship activity, accounting for 20% (entrepreneurial personality profile) and 32% (Big Five traits) of the variance in local entrepreneurship, even when controlling for other factors that affect entrepreneurship. Whereas more research is clearly needed, our findings have initial implications for research and practice concerned with entrepreneurial regions and eco-systems, and regional economic outcomes interacting with local culture. The results suggest, for example, that social media datasets and artificial intelligence methods have the potential to deliver comparable information on the personality and culture of regions than studies based on millions of questionnaire-based personality tests.

Bullies Get Away With It, But Not Everywhere: Mental Health Sequelae of Bullying in Chinese and German Students
Muyu Lin et al.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, forthcoming


Bullying victimization is associated with adverse mental health consequences, while bullies suffer few or no adverse consequences in Western societies. Yet the universality of these consequences across western and eastern cultures is unknown. The current study investigated retrospective bullying experience in primary and secondary schools and its effects on adult mental health (depression, anxiety, stress, lifetime suicidal behavior, positive mental health, life satisfaction, social support, self-efficacy, and sense of control) in 5,012 Chinese and 1,935 German university students. School bullying victimization was far less frequently recalled by the Chinese sample (6.2%–12.6%) than the German sample (29.3%–37.0%), but victims had similar adverse mental health in both countries. In Germany, bullies and not-involved had equally good mental health, whereas bullies in China had poor mental health comparable to victims. Bullying victimization has similar adverse effects on mental health across countries. However, compared to the German students, the prevalence of school bullying is significantly lower, and bullies are also more likely to suffer mental health problems in adulthood in Chinese students. The differences of reasons for and consequences of being bullies are discussed and may have important implications for evolutionary theories and interventions of bullying.

The Cost of Being “True to Yourself” for Mixed Selves: Frame Switching Leads to Perceived Inauthenticity and Downstream Social Consequences for Biculturals
Alexandria West, Amy Muise & Joni Sasaki
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


A growing population of biculturals — who identify with at least two cultures — often frame switch, adapting their behavior to their shifting cultural contexts. We demonstrate that frame switching biculturals are perceived as inauthentic by majority Americans and consequently seen as less likable, trustworthy, warm, and competent compared to biculturals who do not frame switch or a neutral control (Studies 1–3, N = 763). In Study 2, describing the bicultural’s behavior as authentic despite its inconsistency partly alleviated the negative effects of frame switching. In our preregistered Study 3, majority American women were less romantically interested in and less willing to date a bicultural who frame switched in his dating profiles (mediated by inauthenticity). The way biculturals negotiate their cultures can have social costs and create a barrier to intercultural relations.

Culture, Capital and the Political Economy Gender Gap: Evidence from Meghalaya's Matrilineal Tribes
Rachel Brule & Nikhar Gaikwad
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


What explains the gender gap in political engagement and economic policy preferences? Many scholars point to material resources, while others credit cultural determinants. We identify and test an important link between these factors: cultural lineage norms that structure entitlements to resources. Studying the relationship between culture and resources is challenging in societies where both disadvantage women. We analyze a unique setting: northeast India, where matrilineal tribes live alongside patrilineal communities. Patriarchal cultures and political institutions are shared, but lineage norms are distinct: patrilineal groups distribute inherited wealth through men, while matrilineal tribes do so via women. We conduct survey and behavioral experiments with representative samples of both communities, alongside extensive qualitative research, and find that the gender gap reverses across patrilineal and matrilineal groups. Our results indicate that lineage norms — which determine who gets to make decisions about wealth and how — are key determinants of the political economy gender gap.

Cross-Cultural Comparisons in Implicit and Explicit Age Bias
Lindsay Ackerman & William Chopik
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Most research documenting bias against older adults has been conducted in individualistic and industrialized cultures. In the current study, we examined cultural variation in attitudes toward older adults and subjective age in a large sample of 911,982 participants (Mage = 27.42, SD = 12.23; 67.6% women) from 68 different countries (Msize = 12,077; Mdnsize = 425.5). We hypothesized that age bias would be lower among those living in highly collectivistic countries. We found that living in collectivistic countries was associated with less implicit and explicit age bias, and greater feelings of warmth toward older adults compared with highly individualistic countries. Given the impact of age bias and prejudice on both the targets and perpetrators of bias, further research is needed to examine the causes of and interventions for bias against older adults.

Crossing the rice-wheat border: Not all intra-cultural adaptation is equal
Alexander English & Nicolas Geeraert
PLoS ONE, August 2020


This study aimed to test whether or not where people come from and move to impacts their method for dealing with stress. We investigated this research question among newcomers crossing between the rice and wheat farming regions in China—south and north China, respectively. New evidence suggests wheat-farming agriculture fosters a coping strategy of changing the environment (primary coping), while rice-farming regions foster the converse strategy of fitting into the environment (secondary coping). Using two longitudinal studies on newcomers at universities located in both the rice and wheat farming regions, we hypothesized that students from south China (rice region) at a university in north China (wheat region) would use more primary coping and it would lead to better adaptation (Study 1). In contrast, students from wheat-farming regions moving to a rice university would benefit from secondary coping as an effective strategy for buffering stress (Study 2). Results indicated that for students from rice-farming regions who were studying universities in wheat-farming regions, secondary coping was damaging and attenuated the stress-adaptation relationship. However, in study 2, the reverse was found, as secondary coping was found to buffer the negative effects of stress on sociocultural adaptation for students from wheat-farming regions who were studying at universities in rice-farming regions. This study lends further support to the theory that ecological factors impact how individuals cope with the acculturative stress of moving to a new environment.


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