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Witchcraft Beliefs and the Erosion of Social Capital: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa and Beyond

Boris Gershman ()

No 2015-03, Working Papers from American University, Department of Economics

Abstract: This paper examines the relationship between witchcraft beliefs, a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon, and various elements of social capital. Using novel survey data from nineteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa we establish a robust negative association between the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs and multiple measures of trust which holds after accounting for country fixed effects and potential confounding factors at the individual, regional, and ethnic-group levels. This finding extends to other metrics of social capital, namely charitable giving and participation in religious group activities. Such coexistence of witchcraft beliefs and antisocial attitudes stands in stark contrast to a well-explored alternative cultural equilibrium characterized by religious prosociality. Evidence from societies beyond Africa shows that in preindustrial communities where witchcraft is believed to be an important cause of illness, mistrust and other antisocial traits are inculcated since childhood. Furthermore, second-generation immigrants in Europe originating from countries with widespread witchcraft beliefs are generally less trusting.

Keywords: Culture; Persistence; Social capital; Superstition; Trust; Witchcraft (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: O10 Z10 Z12 Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2015
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-afr, nep-evo, nep-gro and nep-soc
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https://doi.org/10.17606/2ezm-gk94 First version, 2015 (application/pdf)

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Journal Article: Witchcraft beliefs and the erosion of social capital: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond (2016) Downloads
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