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Article

Dead men tell no tales: the role of cultural transmission in demographic change

Journal of Demographic Economics. 2021. Vol. 87. No. 4. P. 511-536.

The paper explains long-term changes in birth, death rates, and in attitude to personal consumption by evolution of preferences by means of cultural transmission. When communities are culturally isolated, they are focused on population growth, which results in large fertility and welfare transfers to children, limited adult consumption, and lack of old-age support. With increasing cultural contact across communities, successful cultural traits induce their hosts to increase their social visibility by limiting fertility and increasing longevity via higher individual consumption. Empirical analysis confirms that social visibility, as measured by the number of language versions of Wikipedia biographical pages, is associated with fewer children and longer lifespan. The presence of notable individuals precedes reduced aggregate birth rates.