David Hugh-Jones

Picture of David Hugh-Jones

I'm an associate professor in the School of Economics at the University of East Anglia. My interests include culture, social norms, social genomics and my dog Roly.

My book Wyclif's Dust: Western Cultures from the Printing Press to the Present is out now. Read more.

Working Papers

Trading Social Status for Genetics in Marriage Markets: Evidence from UK Biobank (with Abdel Abdellaoui, Oana Borcan and Pierre Chiappori). Source code.

If socio-economic status (SES) and genetic variants are both assets in marriage markets, then the two will become associated in spouse pairs, and will be passed on together to future generations. This process provides a new explanation for the surprising persistence of inequality across generations, and for the genes-SES gradient: the genetic differences we observe between high- and low-income people. The gradient includes differences related to human capital and to physical and mental health, so understanding its origins is important for understanding inequality in general, and health inequalities in particular. We model social-genetic assortative mating (SGAM) and test for its existence in a large genetically-informed survey. We compare spouses of individuals with different birth order, which is known to affect socio-economic status and which is exogenous to own genetic endowments among siblings. Spouses of earlier-born individuals have genetic variants that predict higher educational attainment. We provide evidence that this effect is mediated by individuals’ own educational attainment and income. Thus, environmental shocks to socio-economic status are reflected in the DNA of subsequent generations. Our work uncovers a new channel by which economic institutions can affect long-run inequality; suggests that genes-SES gradients may be historically widespread; and shows that genetic variation is endogenous to social institutions.

Existing theories of the effects of the printing press treat it as speeding up the transmission of technical knowledge. This cannot explain why a large proportion of both manuscripts and early printed books was religious. We argue that books transmit prudential and moral rules as well as technical information. These culturally transmitted rules provide a foundation for economic rationality, and solve problems of trust in large markets. In Europe, cheaper book production stimulated not only scientific progress, but also new forms of religion, which used book reading to inculcate rules appropriate to the emerging modern economy. We model the effect of the printing press on economic growth. Initially religious works dominate, but as the stock of technical knowledge grows, the proportion of technical works increases.

People’s preferences about the fair distribution of resources vary within and between different populations, and this affects many economic and political outcomes. We argue that a source of these differences is the social transmission of fairness norms from peers during adolescence. We ran an experiment on transmission of fairness norms in a friendship network of 11-15 year olds. Observing others’ choices affects young people’s fairness norms, as expressed in both their own choices and the attitudes they express. Our results show how young people can adopt redistributive norms via the social influence of their peer group. We also examine how the strength of social influence varies with friendship status and network position.


Britons are evolving to be poorer and less educated (Daily Telegraph)

Migrants from coalfields take DNA as well as talent with them (The Economist)

Brain drain is carrying our clever genes south (The Times)

British industrial regions suffer ‘gene drain’ with the healthier and more academically gifted moving away (Daily Telegraph)

Inequality now extends to people’s DNA (The Conversation)

© David Hugh-Jones 2007-2022. All rights reserved.