Friday, April 21, 2006

More Differences in Beliefs

Ed Glaeser has written several other pieces which describe differences in beliefs across space. Most recently, Ed and David Cutler produced a paper that argues different beliefs about the harmful effects of smoking explain much of the difference in smoking prevalence between the US and Europe:

While Americans are less healthy than Europeans along some dimensions (like obesity), Americans are significantly less likely to smoke than their European counterparts. This difference emerged in the 1970s and it is biggest among the most educated. The puzzle becomes larger once we account for cigarette prices and anti-smoking regulations, which are both higher in Europe. There is a nonmonotonic relationship between smoking and income; among richer countries and people, higher incomes are associated with less smoking. This can account for about one-fifth of the U.S./Europe difference. Almost one-half of the smoking difference appears to be the result of differences in beliefs about the health effects of smoking; Europeans are generally less likely to think that cigarette smoking is harmful.

Ed and Alberto Alesina produced a book "Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference" that discusses why Europeans and Americans have such different welfare states. In part of the book they discuss the role for different beliefs about poor people (which in turn are related to differences in racial composition). Here is a paragraph from the Economist's summary:

NOTHING better encapsulates the different attitudes of America and Europe to the poor than a table towards the end of Alberto Alesina's and Edward Glaeser's remarkable book*, due to be published later this month. It compares the prevalence of three beliefs: that the poor are trapped in poverty; that luck determines income; and that the poor are lazy. The first is held by only 29% of Americans but by 60% of citizens of the European Union; the second, by 30% of Americans and 54% of Europeans; and the third, by contrast, by 60% of Americans and 24% of Europeans.

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