The Mission: Human Capital Transmission, Economic Persistence and Culture in South America

This article examines the long-term consequences of a historical human capital intervention. The Jesuit order founded religious missions amongst the Guarani, in modern-day Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Missionaries instructed indigenous inhabitants in reading, writing and various crafts, before their expulsion in 1767. Using archival records and municipal census data, I demonstrate that educational attainment was and remains higher after 250 years in areas of former Jesuit presence. These differences also translate into 10% higher incomes. The effect of Jesuit missions emerges clearly after comparing them with abandoned Jesuit missions, Franciscan Guarani Missions and using an Instrumental Variables strategy. In addition, I collect survey data and conduct behavioral experiments, finding that respondents in missionary areas exhibit higher non-cognitive abilities and collaborative behavior. Such enduring differences are consistent with transmission mechanisms of occupational persistence, inter-generational knowledge transmission and indigenous assimilation. Robustness checks suggest that the results are not driven by migration, urbanization and tourism.

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