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Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of “Rugged Individualism†in the United States

Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein and Mesay Gebresilasse
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Samuel Bazzi: Boston University, NBER and CEPR
Martin Fiszbein: Boston University and NBER
Mesay Gebresilasse: Boston University

No dp-302, Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series from Boston University - Department of Economics

Abstract: The presence of a westward-moving frontier of settlement shaped early U.S. history. In 1893, the his- torian Frederick Jackson Turner famously argued that the American frontier fostered individualism. We investigate the Frontier Thesis and identify its long-run implications for culture and politics. We track the frontier throughout the 1790–1890 period and construct a novel, county-level measure of to- tal frontier experience (TFE). Historically, frontier locations had distinctive demographics and greater individualism. Long after the closing of the frontier, counties with greater TFE exhibit more perva- sive individualism and opposition to redistribution. This pattern cuts across known divides in the U.S., including urban–rural and north–south. We provide suggestive evidence on the roots of fron- tier culture: selective migration, an adaptive advantage of self-reliance, and perceived opportunities for upward mobility through effort. Overall, our findings shed new light on the frontier’s persistent legacy of rugged individualism.

Keywords: Culture; Individualism; Preferences for Redistribution; American Frontier; Persistence (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D72 H2 N31 N91 O43 P16 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-evo, nep-gro and nep-his
Date: 2018-06
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