Research Spotlight: Mathematical model predicts nations’ stability

Stock photo of flags of many nations from a low angleThanks to a new model created by an international research group, it is now possible to predict which European countries are more likely to become united or which are more likely to break up. It does so by not only considering demographic and economic criteria but, most ingeniously of all, culture and genetics.

SMU economist Shlomo Weber was a member of the team and co-author of the study that was published in the Journal of Economic Growth.

The scientists said their method quantitatively analyzes the stability and disintegration of European nations. It also estimates the implicit benefits of a larger European Union or, in other words, what would happen if the EU were one country. They also give empirical support for the use of genetics as an indicator of cultural heterogeneity amongst nations.

Besides Weber, other researchers included scientists from the Carlos III University of Madrid, the Toulouse School of Economics in France and the New Moscow School of Economics in Russia.

It has always been common knowledge that the more nations that join together in unity, the greater the profits, said Ignacio Ortuño Ortín, a researcher at the University of Madrid. This is because the market gets bigger and costs are shared. On the other hand, when many regions or countries are brought together there is a difference in populations, both economically and culturally. This, in turn, implies a high cost. There was a need for methodology that quantitatively analyzes these two aspects using specific cases.

The model the researchers put forward includes factors such as a country’s wealth alongside size and cultural differences in terms of population genetics. According to the experts, the most difficult aspect to quantify when making predictions is the “measurement” of countries from a cultural point of view.

“We take population genetics data and then use it to support the fact that such genetic distance between regions can be used as a good tool when approaching cultural distance,” Ortuño said.

According to the scientists, this does not suggest that genetics explains culture but that there is a correlation between the two. This means that populations that have intermixed more will also display greater cultural similarity. “We are not saying that genes explain the way a person thinks,” clarifies Ortuño.

In order to put consistency of their model to the test, a real-life case was chosen: the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The authors of the study found that the economic differences between its republics determined the order of disintegration – a fact that coincided with their model. Likewise, cultural differences, although small, played a key role in triggering instability.

Courtesy of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

> Get the full story from the SMU Research blog