Frighteningly widespread: Belief in witches slows development

Shockingly widespread
Belief in witches slows down development

If you believe in witchcraft, you will feel transported back to the Middle Ages. But even today, such misconceptions are widespread in some societies. And that has amazing implications for these communities, according to a study by economists.

There are witches who can harm others with their supernatural abilities – a surprising number of people around the world believe that. According to a study published in the trade journal “PLOS One”, 40 percent of the population in 95 countries are convinced. According to this, the belief in witchcraft is especially widespread in states with weak institutions and conformist cultures – creating mistrust and fear there.

The regional differences are very large. For example, only 9 percent of respondents in Sweden said they believed in witchcraft, compared to 90 percent in Tunisia. High values ​​were also found in Morocco, Tanzania and Cameroon. In Germany, the percentage was around 13 percent, which is relatively low.

The witch craze is by no means a phenomenon of the Middle Ages: even today, women and especially people with albinism are still attacked and killed in many places for alleged magical abilities. The persecution is so severe that the United Nations Human Rights Council last year published a resolution calling for the condemnation of such abuses and attacks.

Important reference to economic behavior

However, so far there are no statistical analyzes on a global level that show how widespread the belief in witchcraft is. That is what the economist Boris Gershman of the American University in Washington is now working on. When asked, he explains that his involvement with the subject as an economist may at first seem strange. “In recent decades, however, there has been a growing recognition among economists that it is important to understand culture and how it relates to economic behavior,” he explains – adding that belief in witchcraft is an important part of culture all over the world. world. .

Gershman compiled a dataset of more than 140,000 people from 95 countries and regions. It’s based on surveys conducted between 2008 and 2017, in which more than 40 percent of respondents said they believe “certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.”

However, the global significance of the study is limited: although the regions surveyed represent about half of the world’s adult population, they did not include information from China, India and some African countries and only a few from East and Southeast Asia.

The study argues that the differences in regional coverage reflect the survey’s focus on countries with predominantly Christian and Muslim populations. “Despite these limitations, our new data set makes it clear that, first, belief in witchcraft is a global contemporary phenomenon that is not limited to a few select areas, and second, that its prevalence varies considerably both between and within world regions.”

More education, less belief in witchcraft

Gershman also noted that while belief in witchcraft is common across all socio-demographic groups, it is less likely among those with higher levels of education and economic security. At the country level, it also depends on various cultural, institutional, psychological and socio-economic factors. Belief in witchcraft is especially widespread in countries with weak institutions, little social trust, and little innovation.

An earlier study by Gershman had already suggested a link between belief in witchcraft and the erosion of social capital, which is often used to describe the degree of cohesion in a community. “It forces you to conform to local norms, because any deviation can lead to prosecution,” the economist said at the time. This kind of forced conformity out of fear leads to immobility and hinders the creation of wealth and innovation.

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