Social and spatial interactions in the accumulation of civic and human capital

Research project


Social and human capital have a pervasive effect on many aspects of the economy and society. Hence, understanding how they are accumulated is of critical importance. In this direction, Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales (GSZ, 2011) rephrase social capital in terms of civic capital. Unlike human capital, civic capital is the result of a social process of investment and requires individual values and beliefs to be shared by other members of the community. According to economic theory, this social process of investment occurs via inter-generational (or vertical) transmission, where individuals acquire preferences relevant for their economic outcomes, and critical beliefs about the world, from their parents, and through socialisation (or oblique transmission, see Bisin and Verdier, 2000). Tabellini (2008) underlines how the parental choice of which values to transmit to children is influenced by the spatial pattern of external values and beliefs. Since this process evolves slowly, the cultural traits of a community show path dependence: events occurred centuries ago, may influence current civic capital and current regional differences in economic development, even under the same formal institutions (Tabellini, 2010).
A number of features of the accumulation of civic and human capital emerge from the literature: the intergenerational transmission mechanism, mostly within the family; the role of socialisation through peers and role models; the influence of the spatial pattern of values and beliefs; the strong historical persistence, as the current stock results from centuries of accumulation/decumulation induced by historical episodes.
This research proposal aims advancing the existing knowledge on the above features. To achieve this objective, it puts together a team of researchers of international standing from Italian and international universities and organisations with backgrounds in political economy, regional economics, economic policy, econometrics, social statistics. The team will be coordinated by four young and energetic scholars: Dr Giorgio Fazio (University of Palermo, UoP), Dr Eleonora Patacchini (University of Rome “La Sapienza”, UoR), Dr Roberto Patuelli (University of Bologna, UoB) and Dr Marco Percoco (Bocconi University in Milan, UoM).
As mentioned above, the accumulation of civic capital occurs via both vertical and oblique channels. The UoP will concentrate on the measurement of civic capital and its transmission at the community level. While the vertical and oblique transmission channels have been widely postulated in the theory, direct empirical assessments are particularly scarce, because of the lack of data able to capture the multidimensional dimension of civic capital. In partnership with the Regional Office for Schools and the World Values Survey Association, the UoP will implement the first ever local values survey, where teenagers enrolled in secondary schools in the area of Palermo and their reference adults will be asked questions related to civic capital. Using the gathered data and appropriate econometric methods, the UoP will investigate the vertical and oblique transmission of values and beliefs associated with civic capital and its impact on human capital. Further research questions will be investigated with respect to the effects of civic capital on educational achievement and the relationship, in a complex community like Palermo, between civic capital and social deviance (see UoP module B for further details).
Socialisation is another crucial channel of civic capital transmission. The UoR will focus on this channel, and social networks in particular. To the best of our knowledge, no study has ever looked directly at the importance of social interactions for the transmission of civic capital and, actually, the very existence of such effects is controversial in many socio-economic contexts (Blume, et al. (2010). Conclusive studies are missing because of the lack of data and the need for advanced statistical and graph theory tools to deal with complex patterns of data dependence. To overcome these problems, the UoR will collect new data by implementing a software platform of social network, similar to Facebook, in an Italian high School in Siena. Within the platform, the Unit will record interactions among students and use the software as a research tool to conduct large-scale experiments over time, exploring how different types of interactions affect (and are affected by) the evolving social network. Moreover, since 30% of the first-year students of the selected school are second generation immigrants, it will be possible to investigate a number of hypotheses on the formation of civic capital and cultural integration, along the lines of GSZ (2006) and Uslaner (2008). A comprehensive data analysis and theoretical models will be pursued to understand the behavioral mechanisms at work and the causalities in the observed relationships (see UoR module B for further details).
Moreover, Tabellini (2008) and Durlauf and Ioannides (2012) underline the role of the external environment and spatial interactions. Along these lines, the UoB will focus on the role of location in determining inequalities and trends of civic capital accumulation. First, following Fazio and Lavecchia (2012), it will investigate the presence and determinants of regional clusters of civic capital using data on European regions. Second, it will specifically study how economic growth and population characteristics affect social participation and civic capital in regions. Further, the effects of past migration trends (domestic and international, or further classified in terms of religion and ethnicity) on the accumulation and persistence of civic capital, along the lines of LeSage and Ha (2012). Finally, it will be given attention to the role of the geographical origin of migrants, distance and spatial directionality, to identify “directions” of migration that favour social capital versus others that lead to its deterioration.
Finally, it has been widely argued that civic capital displays historical path dependence (Acemoglu and Jackson, 2011; Guiso et al., 2008; Tabellini, 2010; Percoco, 2012).
The UoM will concentrate on the historical foundations of civic capital with specific reference to inequality, education and the spreading of knowledge in Italian cities. Hypotheses will be investigated using already collected data on land concentration and education expenditure at city-level at the end of XIX century for two southern regions, Basilicata and Calabria, collected from the “Indagine sui contadini”. Further historical data will be constructed on land concentration and educational attainments to explore the relationship between past inequality and education; those variables will then be used as predictors of current civic capital. The origins of inequality will also be investigated looking at specific historical events, such as the sale of the Church real estates at the end of XVII century, using sales data (information on buyers and estate values) available at city level for Piedmont, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily, with information on buyers as well as the values of the estates. This data will be used to construct city and family-level measures of concentration and relate them to measures of inequality and of civic social capital. The UoM will also carry out surveys in the village of Chiaromonte/Montenegro, the same village investigated by Banfield in his seminal 1958 contribution, in order to revisit his evidence 60 years later. This experiment is particularly interesting considering that the population of Chiaromonte is now around 30% the one at the time when Banfield conducted his experiment, allowing the assessment of civic capital persistence and the effects of outmigration.
The topics investigated by proposal can be summarised under the following JEL (Journal of Economics Literature) codes: D02, C83, D85, I25, R5, Z13
Effective start/end date1/1/12 → …




Human capital
Social networks
Social capital
Social processes
Path dependence
Social interaction
Intergenerational transmission
Real estate
Secondary school
Economic theory