Human Evolution & Development

This research explores the interaction between human evolution and the process of economic development, advancing the hypothesis that the forces of natural selection played a significant role in the evolution of the world economy from stagnation to growth.  The theory suggests that the Malthusian pressures have acted as the key determinant of population size and conceivably, via natural selection, have shaped the composition of the population as well. Lineages of individuals whose traits were complementary to the economic environment generated higher levels of income, and thus a larger number of surviving offspring and the gradual increase in the representation of their traits in the population contributed to the process of development and the takeoff from stagnation to growth.

The Agricultural Revolution and the establishment of individual, rather than tribal, property rights expedited the selection process and gradually increased the representation of traits that were complementary to the growth process (e.g., entrepreneurial spirit, higher life expectancy, preference for child quality). It triggered a positive feedback between technological progress and education and ultimately brought about the Industrial Revolution and a period of sustained economic growth.

Subjecting hypothetical evolutionary processes to the scrutiny of evolutionary growth models, this body of research has identied several traits that may have been subjected to positive selection during the Malthusian era due to their conduciveness to human capital formation and economic development. In particular, this research advances the hypothesis that during the Malthusian epoch, natural selection brought about a gradual increase in the prevalence of traits associated with predisposition towards offspring quality (Galor and Moav, QJE 2002). The effect of this evolutionary process on investment in human capital stimulated technological progress and contributed to the reinforcing interaction between investment in human capital and technological progress that triggered the demographic transition and brought about a state of sustained economic growth.

Indeed, evidence from the genealogy of the founder population Quebec suggests that the forces of natural selection favored individuals characterized by moderate fecundity, increasing the population's predisposition towards investment in child quality. Thus, since the conditions that were faced by the founder population of Quebec may resemble the environment that anatomically modern humans confronted during their migration out of Africa, as they settled new territories where the carrying capacity of the new environment was an order of magnitude greater than the size of the founder population, the findings suggest that during the high fertility segments of the Malthusian epoch in which evolutionary forces could have made a significant impact on the composition of the population natural selection favored individuals with a larger predisposition towards child quality, contributing to human capital formation, the onset of the demographic transition, and the evolution of societies from an epoch of stagnation to sustained economic growth (Galor and Klemp, 2015).

Additional studies have highlighted the selection of resistance to infectious diseases (Galor and Moav, 2007), human body size (Lagerlof, 2007), predisposition towards entrepreneurial spirit (Galor and Michalopoulos, JET 2012), time preference (Galor and Ozak, AER forthcoming), lactase persistence (Cook, 2014), and conspicuous consumption (Collins, Baer and Weber, 2015).