Entrepreneurial Culture and Economic Growth: Revisiting McClelland's Thesis

By Beugelsdijk, Sjoerd; Smeets, Roger | The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Entrepreneurial Culture and Economic Growth: Revisiting McClelland's Thesis


Beugelsdijk, Sjoerd, Smeets, Roger, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology


I

Introduction

RECENT INTEREST IN THE RELATIONSHIP between culture and economic development (Landes 1998; Fukuyama 1995; Knack and Keefer 1997; Zak and Knack 2001) has triggered the cultural dimension of entrepreneurship research (Shane 2003; Wennekers et al. 2005). The idea of an entrepreneurial culture being an important driving force of economic development is mainly based on anecdotal evidence, but seems to become more and more accepted. The basic reference that can be found in most papers dealing with entrepreneurship, economic development, and societal differences between countries is McClelland's The Achieving Society (1961).

McClelland found a strong positive correlation between measures of need for achievement (N achievement) imagery in school textbooks and the rate of economic growth. He showed that such a relationship exists in two samples of 23 and 41 countries by relating 1925 and 1955 scores, respectively, on N achievement to subsequent economic growth. The intuitively attractive result, that economic growth partly results from the (entrepreneurial) ambition of human beings, has gradually become generally accepted. Most papers on entrepreneurship and economic development refer to McClelland's Achieving Society in their introduction as a common point of departure. (1) This is not to say that McClelland has not been criticized. His thesis has come under attack by a number of scholars from a range of disciplines, especially in the early 1960s (Rubin 1963; Schatz 1965, 1971). More recently, Pryor (2005) has demonstrated that a robust relationship between economic growth and national values in general does not exist.

Empirical reestimations of McClelland's thesis do exist, but they are limited in scope and scale. Previous reestimations concern simple correlations between N achievement and economic data, or regressions including none or only a limited number of control variables. Since the 1960s, however, economic growth theory has expanded. Modern growth theory (Barro 1991; Barro and Sala-I-Martin 1995; Aghion and Howitt 1998) has resulted in a "standard" empirical growth model. This type of empirical growth regression typically includes initial level of welfare and proxies for human and physical capital (mostly the school enrollment ratio and the investment ratio). These growth models are also referred to as Barro regressions (after Barro 1991).

The contribution we make in this article is confined to an empirical reestimation of McClelland's thesis and the development of an agenda for future research in this area. Building upon modern growth theory, we develop a basic empirical growth model and test if N achievement is related to economic growth. By providing a more advanced reestimation of McClelland's thesis, we complement existing literature in an important way. This is useful, as the increased interest in the cultural drivers of economic development, including entrepreneurship, has resulted in a revival of interest among economists in McClelland's work.

Bibliometric analysis shows that McClelland's work has been cited in economics journals, especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s. (2) Whereas the early (critical) responses referring to The Achieving Society were mainly book reviews, starting in the late 1970s, McClelland's analysis became widespread among scholars interested in crossing the disciplinary boundaries of economics, especially sociopsychology. Not surprisingly, the three journals that contain the most citations to The Achieving Society are Economic Development and Cultural Change (first place, with 18 citations), Journal of Economic Psychology (in second, with 10 citations), and American Journal of Economics and Sociology (third, with 8 citations). Most recently, Small Business Economics, a journal focusing on entrepreneurship, also has contained a significant number of citations to McClelland. The picture that emerges is one in which McClelland's work keeps on generating interest for those working on entrepreneurship. …

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