A History of Violence: The “Culture of Honor” as a Determinant of Homicide in the US South

Pauline Grosjean (University of San Francisco)

December 9, 2010, 11:00–12:30


Room MF 323

Development Economics Seminar


This paper tests the hypothesis that the high prevalence of homicides in the US South stems from the fact that the region was settled by herders, chief among them the Scots and Scots-Irish. Herding societies tend to develop a “culture of honor” because violence is necessary to preserve a reputation for toughness in order to deter animal theft. Using historical census data and relating contemporary violence to early settlers and livestock counts, this paper confirms that high numbers of Scot or Scots-Irish settlers in the 19th century are associated with higher homicide rates today. The effect is strongest among whites and more pronounced in counties where herding was more prevalent and where institutional quality was lower in the 19th century. Different results are found in the North, which had stronger formal institutions than the South. Results indicate that the Scots-Irish culture of honor survived in the South as an adaptive behavior to both economic vulnerability and weak formal institutions. The relationship is likely causal. The results are robust to a wide array of socio-economic controls as well as controls for the influence of slavery and are robust to instrumental variable estimation. The same result is not found for other countries of origin or for offenses unrelated to a self-protection ethic.

JEL codes

  • K42: Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
  • N31: U.S. • Canada: Pre-1913
  • O15: Human Resources • Human Development • Income Distribution • Migration
  • Z13: Economic Sociology • Economic Anthropology • Social and Economic Stratification


Pauline Grosjean (University of San Francisco), A History of Violence: The “Culture of Honor” as a Determinant of Homicide in the US South, Development Economics Seminar, Toulouse: TSE, December 9, 2010, 11:00–12:30, room MF 323.