Frederic E. Abbe Professor of Economics, Harvard University
Nathan Nunn is Frederic E. Abbe Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Professor Nunn’s primary research interests are in political economy, economic history, economic development, cultural economics, and international trade. He is an NBER Faculty Research Fellow, a Research Fellow at BREAD, a Faculty Associate at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA), and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) in the Boundaries, Membership & Belonging program. He is current an editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics.
One stream of Professor Nunn’s research focuses on the historical and dynamic process of economic development. In particular, he has studied the factors that shape differences in the evolution of institutions and cultures across societies. He has published research that studies the historical process of a wide range of factors that are crucial for economic development, including distrust, gender norms, religiosity, norms of rule-following, conflict, immigration, state formation, and support for democracy.
Another stream of Professor Nunn’s research examines economic development in a contemporary context. He has published research examining the effects of Fair Trade certification, CIA interventions during the Cold War, foreign aid, school construction, and trade policy. He is particularly interested in the importance of the local context (e.g., social structures, traditions, and cultures) for the effectiveness of development policy and in understanding how policy can be optimally designed given the local environment. Specifically, he has studied the relationship between marriage customs and female education, generalized trust and political turnover, the organization of the extended family (lineage) and conflict, and traditional local political systems and support for democracy.
His current research interests lie in better understanding the importance of local culture and context for economic policies, particularly in developing countries.
Recent work by Nathan Nunn
Droughts precipitated by climate change force farmers and pastoralists to compete for scant resources, triggering violent clashes
The evolution of culture and tradition, along with their persistence, can be explained by environmental instability
Fair Trade coffee produced in Costa Rica benefits the producers and skilled workers, but not the unskilled workers
Ethnic groups with a social structure based on lineage and strong allegiances to distant relatives show a greater propensity for violent conflict
Without other subsidies, well-intentioned activism against bride price may cause more harm than good for investing in girls’ education.