Cul­tural persistence

TagLast edit: 12 Aug 2021 20:12 UTC by EA Wiki assistant

Cultural persistence refers to the persistence over time of “cultural traits” like customs, beliefs, behaviours. In some cases, such traits last for very long periods of time, while in other cases they change more rapidly and dramatically (Giuliano & Nunn 2020). Relevant traits could include such things as democratic or authoritarian norms and behaviours, concern for human rights, concern for animal welfare, or norms conducive to scientific progress or free markets.

It could be valuable to know how persistent cultural traits tend to be, how often they are very persistent, how this varies between traits and conditions, and what interventions could affect persistence. This could inform predictions about what the future will be like and views about the importance of intervening to change various traits or various conditions that affect persistence. For example, generally, the more persistent we expect a positive change in people’s moral views to be, the more valuable causing that change may be. Cultural persistence is therefore relevant to ideas such as trajectory change and value lock-in (see also Beckstead 2015).

This question of cultural persistence has received some academic attention (e.g. Giuliano & Nunn 2020; Kelly 2019), and is also related to the field of cultural evolution.


Beckstead, Nick (2015) The long-term significance of reducing global catastrophic risks, The GiveWell Blog, August 13 (16 September 2015).

Giuliano, Paola & Nathan Nunn (2020) Understanding cultural persistence and change, The Review of Economic Studies, rdaa074.

Kelly, Morgan (2019) The standard errors of persistence, SSRN Electronic Journal.

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