Mesay Melese Gebresilasse
270 Bay State Rd.
Boston, MA 02215
Institutional Affiliation: Boston University
NBER Working Papers and Publications
|November 2017||Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of "Rugged Individualism" in the United States|
with Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein: w23997
The presence of a westward-moving frontier of settlement shaped early U.S. history. In 1893, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner famously argued that the American frontier fostered individualism. We investigate the Frontier Thesis and identify its long-run implications for culture and politics. We track the frontier throughout the 1790–1890 period and construct a novel, county-level measure of total frontier experience (TFE). Historically, frontier locations had distinctive demographics and greater individualism. Long after the closing of the frontier, counties with greater TFE exhibit more pervasive individualism and opposition to redistribution. This pattern cuts across known divides in the U.S., including urban–rural and north–south. We provide suggestive evidence on the roots of fro...