Evolutionary Biology in Economics: A Review

I’ve just had a new article published in the Economic Record – Evolutionary Biology in Economics: A Review.

Evolutionary Biology in Economics: A Review

Jason Collins, Boris Baer and Ernst Juerg Weber

As human traits and preferences were shaped by natural selection, there is substantial potential for the use of evolutionary biology in economic analysis. In this paper, we review the extent to which evolutionary theory has been incorporated into economic research. We examine work in four areas: the evolution of preferences, the molecular genetic basis of economic traits, the interaction of evolutionary and economic dynamics, and the genetic foundations of economic development. These fields comprise a thriving body of research, but have significant scope for further investigation. In particular, the growing accessibility of low-cost molecular data will create more opportunities for research on the relationship between molecular genetic information and economic traits.

I previously posted about an earlier version of this paper when it was called The Evolutionary Foundations of Economics. You can access an ungated version of that earlier paper here. Drop me a line if you want a copy of the published paper but can’t get access.

It’s not the most exciting article – it was the introductory chapter of my PhD thesis and I wrote it to provide the foundations for the substantive chapters rather than to spark a revolution. However, it will give you a decent snapshot of what is going on.

2 comments

  1. That’s a remarkably small section on cultural evolution. I would have thought that cultural evolution deserves at least 50% of the coverage, considering its general significance. Most evolution in modern times is cultural evolution. To a first approximation, DNA genes are standing still. Cultural evolution is what took us from caves to skyscrapers. That seems to be the era that economics is mostly applied to.

    1. The intention of the paper was to look at genetic evolution – so obviously that’s the material. As we wrote:

      “The subject matter of this paper needs to be distinguished from what is commonly called ‘evolutionary economics’. Evolutionary economics uses biological concepts, such as natural selection, and applies them to the dynamics of firms, business processes and institutions. … The subject matter of this paper differs from evolutionary economics in that we focus on human biology rather than seeking to apply a biological analogy to higher levels such as firms. This paper is about the application of evolutionary biology to economic processes at the level of humans and their genes and their interactions at the population level.”

      That said, beyond ‘evolutionary economics’, the level with which we covered cultural evolution matches the existing contribution of cultural evolution to economics.

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