Occupational choice and the spirit of capitalism

Matthias Doepke, Fabrizio Zilibotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

184 Scopus citations


The British Industrial Revolution triggered a socioeconomic transformation whereby the landowning aristocracy was replaced by industrial capitalists rising from the middle classes as the economically dominant group. We propose a theory of preference formation under financial market imperfections that can account for this pattern. Parents shape their children's preferences in response to economic incentives. Middle-class families in occupations requiring effort, skill, and experience develop patience and a work ethic, whereas upper-class families relying on rental income cultivate a refined taste for leisure. These class-specific attitudes, which are rooted in the nature of preindustrial professions, become key determinants of success once industrialization transforms the economic landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)747-793
Number of pages47
JournalQuarterly Journal of Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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