STRONG FAMILY, WEAK STATE: New evidence on the long-run relationship between family ties and institutions

The roles played by family and state in individuals’ lives have been historically shaped by common geographical forces and continue to affect each other through a mutual relationship. These are the central findings of research by Gian Luca Tedeschi, to be presented at the annual congress of the European Economic Association in August 2020. 

Building on the idea that the scope of socio-economic relations is reflected in both different value systems and institutional arrangements, the study first shows that climatic conditions characterised by greater weather variability were systematically associated with historically weaker family ties and more developed state structures. 

Next, following the evolution of state institutions across the world from the past two centuries, the study determines that societies historically characterised by strong family ties correspond to states with considerably worse institutions over time.


This research first studies the link between the role of the family and the role of the state from an historical point of view, by employing a collection of ethnographic data on the characteristics of pre-industrial societies from all over the world, in particular indicating the strength of family ties and the development of state structures.

The author also exploits a rich dataset providing reconstructions of temperature and precipitation from weather stations to determine the climatic conditions to which these historical societies were subject to. The analysis shows that greater weather variability – that is, temperature and precipitation characterised by more intense fluctuations – is associated with weaker family ties and more developed state structures.

In other words, significant threats to livelihood deriving from weather shocks corresponded with lower reliance on the family, thus weakening family ties, and more developed state structures, allowing for and regulating cooperation and trade with unrelated individuals.

In the second part, the study focuses on the relationship between family ties and the state across time. To do this, the author matches modern countries with the historical ethnographic data of pre-industrial societies employed in the first part, constructing measures of the characteristics of the ancestors of modern countries’ populations.

Such data are then employed together with indexes of institutional quality going as far back as 1800 to show that countries whose population has historically been characterised by stronger family ties are associated with worse institutions over time.

Both sets of results provide evidence in support of a mutual and persistent relationship between family and state and the role they play both in past and modern societies.



‘Two Sides of the Same Coin: Co-Evolution of Kin Ties and Institutions’


Gian Luca Tedeschi

University of Padova and University of Nottingham