On the Origin and Persistence of Parochial Altruism: Historical Tenure Institutions and Intergroup Conflicts in India
This paper examines historical origins and persistence of parochial altruism by exploiting natural experiments during the early modern and the colonial period (1801-1947) of South India. Theory suggests that parochial altruism composed of in-group favoritism and out-group hostility can be nurtured by repeated exposure to intergroup conflicts among socially-defined groups. Natural experiments in South India provide the suitable setting to test this theory: some communities in this region had historically adopted a randomized formation of fishing groups for each available fishing lot every year and intergroup conflicts had frequently occurred among these randomized fishing groups. All fishing groups are obligated to report any type of conflicts to religious judicial systems. I digitized detailed conflict information from 1801 to 1947 and combined it with the data from lab-in-the-field experiments for descendants. I find that a person is more altruistic to other community members if their ancestors had conflicts with other fishing groups together (i.e., they had common enemies). Furthermore, I demonstrate mechanisms through which such parochial altruism has persisted over generations.