Research Economics

When Social Norms Affect Nutrition

, by Fabio Todesco
Food scarcity and income distribution are not enough to explain the levels of undernourishment in developing countries, according to the studies of the Fondazione Invernizzi Chair, to be presented in a book and in a conference

Global food scarcity and uneven income distribution are not enough to explain the levels of undernourishment recorded in many developing countries – where 98% of the world undernourished are concentrated. "We argue", Eliana La Ferrara and Annamaria Milazzo write in Development and Nutrition: the role of social norms (Egea, 2015, 144 pages, downloadable for free upon registration at after 22 April), "that social norms play an important role when it comes to food availability. First of all, customary norms like those related to the ownership and inheritance of land affect incentives to take on innovation, to invest in agriculture, and thus ultimately affect output".

The book wants to disseminate the research on nutrition carried out by the Fondazione Romeo ed Enrica Invernizzi Chair in Development Economics, held by Professor La Ferrara, and is published in occasion of EXPO 2015.

After a review of the literature on social norms that affect the informal economies in developing countries, the book presents the outcome of a natural experiment, which exploits the introduction of a new law in Ghana in the mid '80s, which introduced the possibility to transmit land property to children even in matrilineal ethnic groups, such as the Akan, for whom traditional descent rules prescribed that children could not inherit from their own parents. The new law, the scholars observe, improved male children's nutrition, because it led parents to invest more resources in children's health. Akan males, after the reform, have closed the height gap they used to suffer in comparison with boys of other ethnic groups.

The book will be presented, on Wednesday, 22 April, at a conference ("Sviluppo economico e nutrizione / Economic development and nutrition", 4 p.m., Aula Magna via Gobbi 5) with the authors (Milazzo is currently a World Bank researcher but when researching for the book she was at Bocconi), Lawrence Haddad, senior research fellow International Food Policy Research Institute, Emanuela Galasso, World Bank researcher, and Carlo Cafiero, senior statistician at FAO.