Colonization and changing social structure: Evidence from Kazakhstan

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We study how Russian colonization of the Kazakh steppes in the late 19th century influenced the evolution of traditional institutions of Kazakhs. Using a rich dataset constructed from Russian colonial expedition materials, we find that during the transition from nomadic pastoralism to a semi-sedentary pastoralist-agricultural system, Kazakhs' traditional communes shrank, property rights on land became more individualized, and households became less likely to pool labor for farming. We argue that two main forces behind this evolution were increasing land pressure and technological change. The speed and the magnitude of these adjustments were much larger than usually assumed in most of development economics literature on traditional institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-430
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Development Economics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Clan
  • Colonization
  • Extended family
  • Institutional change
  • Kazakhstan
  • Property rights


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