This is the mindset that enabled northwest Europeans to exploit the possibilities of the market economy

Friday, January 18th, 2019

There is reason to believe that northwest Europeans were pre-adapted to the market economy:

They were not the first to create markets, but they were the first to replace kinship with the market as the main way of organizing social and economic life. Already in the fourteenth century, their kinship ties were weaker than those of other human populations, as attested by marriage data going back to before the Black Death and in some cases to the seventh century (Frost 2017). The data reveal a characteristic pattern:

  • men and women marry relatively late
  • many people never marry
  • children usually leave the nuclear family to form new households
  • households often have non-kin members

This behavioral pattern was associated with a psychological one:

  • weaker kinship and stronger individualism;
  • framing of social rules in terms of moral universalism and moral absolutism, as opposed to kinship-based morality (nepotism, amoral familialism);
  • greater tendency to use internal controls on behavior (guilt proneness, empathy) than external controls (public shaming, community surveillance, etc.)

This is the mindset that enabled northwest Europeans to exploit the possibilities of the market economy. Because they could more easily move toward individualism and social atomization, they could go farther in reorganizing social relationships along market-oriented lines. They could thus mobilize capital, labor, and raw resources more efficiently, thereby gaining more wealth and, ultimately, more military power.

This new cultural environment in turn led to further behavioral and psychological changes. Northwest Europeans have adapted to it just as humans elsewhere have adapted to their own cultural environments, through gene-culture coevolution.


Northwest Europeans adapted to the market economy, especially those who formed the nascent middle class of merchants, yeomen, and petty traders. Over time, this class enjoyed higher fertility and became demographically more important, as shown by Clark (2007, 2009a, 2009b) in his study of medieval and post-medieval England: the lower classes had negative population growth and were steadily replaced, generation after generation, by downwardly mobile individuals from the middle class. By the early 19th century most English people were either middle-class or impoverished descendants of the middle class.

This demographic change was associated with behavioral and psychological changes to the average English person. Time orientation became shifted toward the future, as seen by increased willingness to save money and defer gratification. There was also a long-term decline in personal violence, with male homicide falling steadily from 1150 to 1800 and, parallel to this, a decline in blood sports and other violent though legal practices (cock fighting, bear and bull baiting, public executions). This change can largely be attributed to the State’s monopoly on violence and the consequent removal of violence-prone individuals through court-ordered or extrajudicial executions. Between 1500 and 1750, court-ordered executions removed 0.5 to 1.0% of all men of each generation, with perhaps just as many dying at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial (Clark 2007; Frost and Harpending 2015).

Similarly, Rindermann (2018) has argued that mean IQ steadily rose in Western Europe during late medieval and post-medieval times. More people were able to reach higher stages of mental development. Previously, the average person could learn language and social norms well enough, but their ability to reason was hindered by cognitive egocentrism, anthropomorphism, finalism, and animism (Rindermann 2018, p. 49). From the sixteenth century onward, more and more people could better understand probability, cause and effect, and the perspective of another person, whether real or hypothetical. This improvement preceded universal education and improvements in nutrition and sanitation (Rindermann 2018, pp. 86-87).


  1. Graham says:

    HBD Chick wrote a lot on these issues as well.

    The foundations of a lot that is magnificent, and I still respect it as the basis of my civilization. For that matter, I’m not temperamentally suited to a strong kinship/extended family social setup myself.

    But it certainly seems to have been a faustian pact in the end.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Peter Frost gives his side of the story, regarding HBD Chick’s work, in his second footnote:

    Hbd*chick has accused me of plagiarizing her work on the Hajnal Line and the Western European Marriage Pattern. The truth is that I became interested in that subject much earlier — during the early 1990s in an exchange of letters with Kevin MacDonald in the pages of Ethology and Sociobiology. Afterwards, I intended to write a follow-up that would prove two points: 1) the Western European Marriage Pattern predates Christianity; and 2) this cultural environment has selected for certain psychological traits. Over the years I gathered material, but I didn’t feel I had enough for a publishable article. I finally wrote up several blog posts on the subject in 2011 and eventually a full article in 2017. Meanwhile, hbd*chick had published her first post on the Hajnal Line in 2011. I did read that post but she seemed to be taking the same position that Kevin MacDonald had taken, i.e., that the WEMP was created by the Catholic Church and that outbreeding was key to emergence of the Western mindset. Later, in a 2012 post, she began to see the WEMP as a template for gene-culture coevolution. At that point I had the impression she was drawing on my material, either directly from my articles and blog posts or indirectly through various bloggers.

    So did I “discover” this idea? No, of course not. Neither I nor hbd*chick was the first to write about the Hajnal Line or the WEMP. More importantly, neither of us was the first to link the WEMP to Western European individualism and mercantilism. I would award that title to Wally Seccombe in his 1992 book A Millennium of Family Change. Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe. In the end, few ideas are truly original. It’s no coincidence that both of us began writing about that subject around the same time. Other people were writing on related topics, and those people were influencing both me and her. I’m thinking here about authors like Gregory Clark and blogs like Jayman and Those Who Can See. I didn’t read it at the time, but in January 2011 Kevin MacDonald wrote a book review that discussed the Hajnal Line and European individualism:

    The nuclear family, freed from extended kinship obligations, is the basis of Western social organization. It is unique relative to other culture areas. This pattern is particularly noticeable in the Northwest of Europe rather than the Pontic steppe region. As one goes from the Northwest of Europe to the Southeast, there is an increase in joint family structure, with brothers living together with parents, grandparents and children. Family historian John Hajnal discovered the “Hajnal line” that separates Western Europe from Eastern Europe, the former characterized by nuclear family structure, relatively late marriage and large numbers of unmarried in economically difficult times, the latter by joint family structure and relatively early and universal marriage.

    Finally, while preparing my 2017 article, I wanted to cite hbd*chick as someone with an alternate point of view, but I couldn’t find anything published under her real name. There were only pseudonymous posts from her blog. To cite her in my manuscript would require inserting citations like (hbd*chick 2014). The reviewers would immediately notice, and the chances of rejection would increase accordingly. This point should be obvious.

  3. Graham says:

    Interesting. I had read hunks of her blog, still have no idea who she is, and I had read some articles by Frost in the period 2012–14/15. But not enough to grasp the differences of all that framework or backstory.

  4. Wan Wei Lin says:

    A roundabout way of saying the individual had higher priority than the collective.

  5. CVLR says:

    Celebrate the domestication of man.

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