Regime Stability and the Persistence of Traditional Practices
I investigate the role of national institutions on the persistence of cultural norms and traditions. In particular, I examine why the harmful tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM) persists in certain African countries while in others it has been successfully eradicated. I argue that people are more willing to abandon their institutions and traditions if they are sure that the government is durable enough to set up long term replacements for them. If the regime is weak, people revert to their traditional cultural norms. I exploit the fact that ethnic groups in Africa were artificially partitioned by national borders and, using a country-ethnicity panel dataset, I show that one standard deviation in political regime durability explains at least 14% of the standard deviation of the share of circumcised women. The results are robust to an array of control variables and robustness checks. I confirm that the results are unlikely to be spurious by using within nation variation in regime durability induced by leaders’ deaths from natural causes.