Cultural and social factors that affect development

This is part 4 of an exploration into why some countries are poorer than others.

Sometimes there are social or cultural factors that hold back poor countries. Discrimination is one of these. If there are certain people groups that are discriminated against, the country’s overall productivity can suffer. This may be a tribe, a caste, a racial category or minority language group. I have already mentioned Cameroon, which has both French speaking and English speaking regions. All the infrastructure happens in the French speaking part. French speakers in Canada complain of the opposite. Welsh speakers in Britain, or Catalans in Spain, have historically faced similar problems. Racial discrimination may be an issue, excluding certain groups from economic activity, either deliberately or not. Racial minorities regularly have poorer exam results and economic prospects than the majority. More serious forms of exclusion would be apartheid South Africa, or the Asian communities driven out of Uganda under Idi Amin, which was disastrous for Uganda’s economy.

Another division may be the role of women. Jeffrey Sachs talks about this in The End of Poverty: ‘Cultural or religious norms may block the role of women… leaving half the population without economic or political rights and without education, thereby undermining half of the population in its contribution to overall development.’ If you don’t believe that women should work, you have effectively halved the earning potential of your country.

Closely linked to this is the population issue. If women see staying at home and bringing up children as their chief role, they will have more children than those who work. There is nothing wrong with having lots of children, as long as you can provide for them. Jeffrey Sachs again: ‘With fewer children, a poor household can invest more in the health and education of each child, thereby equipping the next generation with the health, nutrition, and education that can lift living standards in future years.’

World Population Growth to 2050.JPGAs Paul has talked about here before, world population has exploded. What is interesting is that the countries where this has happened are often those where women do not play a role in business or society. When women are educated and given a choice, some will stay at home and look after children, and others will pursue careers or start small businesses.

This is an important factor, as some countries have seen their population double or triple without their economies keeping pace. That leaves more mouths to feed, and just not enough to go around.

I’ve already mentioned the role of women, but culture can have hidden effects in business, trade and development. China may be a major power now, but it was the world’s most developed country in the middle ages, and stagnated, or even went backwards, for centuries. Part of this was cultural, a pride and sense of self-sufficiency that led to a closing of China’s borders. ‘China seems to have long been stationary’, Adam Smith wrote in 1776, in his Wealth of Nations. ‘A country which neglects or despises foreign commerce… cannot transact the same quantity of business which it might do with different laws and institutions.’ That’s changed, but nationalism, suspicion, or radical philosophy still has some countries closed down to outside involvement – communism in North Korea, or extremist Islam in Taliban Afghanistan, locking countries out of development.

This the far end of the spectrum, but culture works in subtler ways too. Some cultures believe in a greater good, in unity, in the rule of law. They are optimistic, hopeful, ambitious and ready to pull together. Others can be paranoid, fragmented, uncertain of their place in the modern world, angry, resistant to change. Rich countries can be overconfident and brash. Poor countries can see themselves as victims and become despondent. In his The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, economic historian David Landes says ‘If we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture makes all the difference.’

The limits of cultural interpretations
At the same time, cultural influences on development are notoriously hard to call from the outside. Hinduism was often cited as one of the reasons why India would never develop. Because everyone accepts their place in the world, it was assumed that Hindus would lack the ambition required to innovate and do business on an international stage. The recent growth in India’s economy proves that wrong quite spectacularly. Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang quotes a 1911 travel book that describes Koreans as “sullen, lazy and religionless savages”, something that hardly holds true today. So did Korean culture change, or was the writer simply being superior?

We understand each other better than ever in our globalized world, but our language and traditions are still full of little prejudices that imply we are better than others, and that our neighbours are lazy and dirty and uncouth. I love the fact that not turning up for work is called ‘taking French leave’ in England, and ‘filez a l’Anglaise’ (or ‘doing an English’) in France. A Malagasy friend once joked that in Madagascar, every tribe believes that every other tribe eats cats. In short, culture no doubt plays a role in development, but we have to watch our own biases as we seek to understand why some countries succeed and others fail.

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77 Comments on “Cultural and social factors that affect development”

  1. Zoky July 14, 2007 at 12:13 pm #

    I think that in many parts of the world religious beliefs can lead to poverty. This would come under ‘culture’ I guess. Religious viewpoints that are essentially fatalistic would have an empoverishing effect. Certain Eastern religions would see poverty and human suffering as a consequence of wrong deeds committed in a previous existence. According to such an ideology, to act to alleviate poverty in those situations would result in even greater misery in a future life.
    A striking example of the empoverishing effects of religions convictions can be seen amongst the Tandroy of Southern Madagascar. Traditionally a man will spend his days building as large a herd of cattle as he can, to be slaughtered and sent with him to the grave upon his death. His surviving relatives will spend years constructing a huge ornately decorated stone tomb to house his remains, while they themselves live in ramshackle wooden huts. The landscape of the Antandroy territory is dotted with these huge edifices. giving eloquent testimony to the tribe’s conviction that you are dead much longer than you are alive. Enormous quantities of aid and investment have been poured into this area of Madagascar, but nothing ever seems to change. The wealth poured in seems to just trickle away into the sand, or maybe, get buried in the tombs.

  2. Jeremy July 14, 2007 at 12:59 pm #

    Yes, I think religious factors probably are important in development. It’s one of those areas that isn’t very PC to theorise about and so it might not get the attention it needs. It’s always a tragedy when a religion serves the rich and ignores the poor. The God I know has his priorities the other way up.

  3. Fadairo Olushola November 17, 2007 at 7:53 pm #

    I quite agree with the fact that descrimination is a major bedrock to underdevelopment of many communities. The teaching of the Bible on “One body many parts” which we conceptualise today as Globalization make this very clear. I wish many developing countries can come to the understanding of this fact and cease from ethnic, religious and other forms of strife which constitutes a serious clog in the wheel of progress.

  4. Unknown Person September 18, 2008 at 2:51 pm #

    I think this is a very recourceful website. The information is prompt, and the site states facts. I do think that the discrimination of the poor has a major affect on how much the country will be productive. It is also true that the role of women overall is affecting the country greatly. Now, I know that some women may have jobs, but of course not many. It is a privilege that women should be able to have jobs.

  5. kazibwe frank March 2, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    i am kazibwe frank requesting for assistance on the factors that led to the development of china.

  6. guidoamm March 30, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    Hello Jeremy. I was poking about your site and came across this essay that holds particular interest for me.
    I am not an academic but have lived in different countries and am still living now in the Middle East and what I can offer is empirical analysis on society and the economy.
    I too have written a short and necessarily lacking essay on social development. My input on the issue would be termed not PC but it is in many regards the synthesis of opinions held by many specialists that operate in developing countries in various capacities including anthropology. Essentially, your term “discrimination” does play a very large role in social development. The discrimination I observe though, is borne out of the social values, social customs and social traditions of a people. It is ingrained in the gestures of daily life; it is the very fabric of the intellectual architecture of a people. But one of the greatest obstacles to social development that I have witnessed over the years, is the inability of members of developing societies to grasp that quintessential precondition to development that is the formulation of abstract concepts and the conceptualization of the dynamic necessary to achieve that concept.

    You also mention population explosion upon which I touch too. In sixty years of aid and development, the greatest success has been achieved by the various vaccination campaigns and by all the medical assistance that brought about a decline in infant mortality. This of course is a noble result. But the consequences have been devastating as is attested particularly in Africa by recurrent famines. One of the reasons that health aid has more success than all other development aid is that vaccines, for example, do not require any input or maintenance by the receiver other than to avoid life threatening situations like falling off a cliff or some such. But then, as you pointed out, this increase in population has not been matched by an increase in agricultural or commercial productivity rendering these people ever more dependent on outside aid.
    All this to say that yes, “discrimination” though under different guises is absolutely an obstacle to what is deemed to be “development”.

    • John October 14, 2015 at 4:58 am #

      All Jeremy’s are nuggets

  7. vc shukoor August 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm #


    Who are humans? what are their functions?
    I think humans are just like other living beings.Among animals never we can’t see the un natural birth control process.Here nature control living circle(like…lion eats rabit).Man is not exception in this process!In olden times man had a better life expettency…But now it decreasing day by day! so , for what we accepting the way of family control? Human resources is the best resources.we should keep it.China took strict family control(one chiled policy),but now they encouraging child bearing & child rearing.

    vc shukoor,
    Department of Sociology,
    Bharathidasan University,

  8. KABUJE BARIKI April 22, 2010 at 6:42 pm #


  9. Jezza(nickname) July 6, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    I’m a student in secondary school and when i type in things, that i want simply I come to a mind boggling number of stupid websites, that are nonsense. I love this page though. Its detailed, but short and an insightful(<<<is that a word) piece. Good Luck to mee on my Geo. paper!

  10. Areb October 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    Thanks for your support,
    I would have liked you to solve my problem of this question.

    ”How does culture influence development in developing countries?’

  11. Bill panoam March 4, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    that was so plis that website is very interesting ,it has been talking about the development which we have been focus on population that has been disaster in Africa mostly in developing nation and cause poverty without good standard of living

  12. alam May 5, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    it help me a lot just before mx exam started

  13. SAIFUDDEEN SANI GUNDAWA June 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    With due respect, am very full of joy to write and thank the writer of this short essay because this topic really helps me to pass my exam with A grade. thanks to all those who contributed in writing this topic.

  14. Lee July 27, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    Hi. Iam also doing an exam, can any one shine some light on this question?
    what steps can you take to minimize barriers which might be created between your self and your client who is taking a qualification?


  15. FORSON ADOMAKO October 1, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    please can you help with this question. An informed development is dependant of culture. discuss this assertion.

    • Jeremy October 2, 2011 at 8:04 am #

      That’s what the post above is about! I’m not sure I’ve got much more to add to it here in the comments.

  16. ngala samini October 11, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    cultural and social factors play a serious role in clogging the wheels of progress due to the following reasons
    1.obsolete beliefs such as ,having many kids as security impact negatively on the economic development of a country as it increases dependency ratio which will call for a decrease in investments
    2.racial segregation,may impact negatively to a country’s ec.esp when the segregated group is actively involved in economic activitie
    3.gender insensitivity;scrapes off the role the segregated party plays in production .

  17. erick odongo October 19, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    I’m happy at the contributions. can somebody help mewith this question. community development is affect by community attitude towars it. discusss. i will appreciate because i’m between a rock and a hard place with the lecturer.

  18. ELIM November 9, 2011 at 9:51 am #


    • Esther Robert March 28, 2017 at 7:08 pm #

      probably, low technological development in developing countries might be among of the problems that hampering the adoption of the modern economic development experienced in developed world.

  19. solomon November 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    religious also affect economic growth via the opportunity cost of time forgonne at church’s or mosque.

    • Jeremy November 17, 2011 at 9:39 am #

      For a couple of hours a week, I don’t think that’s a big drag on the economy, but perhaps.

  20. JABULANI November 21, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    i find this site very useful and its contributors highly intelligent and would be very grateful to have your views for a discussion on the role of culture in the development of a morden state. thanks guys …….

  21. ernest josephat November 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    because it is illegal for LEDCs to put higher tariff on imported good so that to protect our industries as George bush did in 2002 to protect steel industries in us LET US PUT HIGHER TARIFF IN EXPORTING OF RAW MATERIAL SUCH AS MINERALS TO THE DEVELOPED COUNTRIES


    • Jeremy November 30, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Yes, unfair trade rules have a big role in slowing development. I haven’t included them in this article as it doesn’t come under cultural factors, but it’s certainly very important.

  22. ernest December 1, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    but sir how do think that most of DEVELOPED COUNTRIES almost provide AIDs in churches and other social area inside of other economic area that can make us to develop

  23. MWASHALA, Peter December 6, 2011 at 6:58 am #

    I would like to add one thing;
    another issue on development is Marginalization within the community leads to poor participation in development as marginalized groups like women, people with disabilities, albino and the like are less concerned in development although these groups can serve many things in bringing about remarkable development.

  24. Tanliak Frank Monipaak December 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    1. is development a call for social change
    2. how can culture enhance or promote development
    3. development is relative in nature

    • jane njeri September 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

      improve the ethics and academic .
      serves as a control focus.
      helps in building national unity.
      nurture the development of the mind.
      promote steady economic growth.

  25. vaghamshi bhavesh dada December 20, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Ha bhai sary 6?

  26. Slimzy solo January 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    I quit appreciate ur affort on educating the public on culture norms of different sociaty but my contribution is that culture infulence society should be look into properly.

  27. nova March 7, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    help, do our assignment

  28. hsa March 22, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    thank you for this info. It helps for my essay.

  29. Girlie March 31, 2012 at 8:39 pm #


  30. Ekanem Queendoline June 16, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    Im Queendoline a nigerian student. Cross river State to be precise. I appreciate your brief work but what are the factors determining educational development ?

  31. Ijidakinro mary July 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    What are d factors affecting community development

  32. murwanashyaka aphrodice October 22, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    hello i am intrested with your site,but try to show us futher explanation to how religion may affect development.

  33. Santigie kanu October 28, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    This web site is educative and interesting

    • david gowelo September 1, 2014 at 5:27 am #

      many rich countries also helps where there need are achieved, this brings unbalanced of development within poor coutries that are affected, with any challenge faced, that leads to massive poverty

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    I’ve been thinking of these points for years but could never find someone who could spell out the ins and outs so starkly with clarity.

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  43. Mavela August 12, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    Please tel me factors thath affect development like population growth,education and training

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    • Quasia Durham November 10, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

      The website is somewhat helpful

  45. Samuel January 15, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

    thank you so much for all the insights and educative teaching. i agree that cultural bias and differences precepitate undevelopment. America would be too far if racism and color differences were not the order of the day. We see black Americans now leading in every sphere of life – art, science, literature, sports and ofcourse leadership.

  46. Frida June 13, 2015 at 6:47 am #

    Hi, I am Frida. I have problem with my homework. Maybe anybody could help me? Is there an implication of location to the kind of development and culture of a country? Please answer my question (explain). Thanks very much

  47. kiyingi David June 15, 2015 at 8:44 am #

    culture and social some time leads to discrimination as some culture/people think that all people should leave by their culture, however others enforce it to others exam religion, cultural believes. we need to make it free entry and exist to allow development.

  48. Martin Oluoch June 23, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

    thanks for helping me pass my exams

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  50. Francis Musiime August 6, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    Musiime Francis from Hoima-Uganda

    I really agree with the text. Over the years Bunyoro Region has remained undeveloped because of the factors that have persistently discriminated the people of the region of denied them opportunities to develop. These I can categorized at historic since the colonial times, socio-cultural, and political factors. Another category which I relate to modern forces that fuels evasion and succession tendencies include technological advancement which the people have not been assisted to adopt to, and local politics that have tended to promote division with an intent to favour some people at the expense of others.

  51. alex sendi September 15, 2015 at 8:51 am #

    this has been of great help. thanx man

  52. mbalire james October 3, 2015 at 6:24 am #

    wow this is nice infant these are the answers have been looking for in my course work thanks a lot.
    culture in its anti-development aspects is declining father the development of un developed countries like Uganda where few women work , women are not allowed to eat certain foods and others

    • Esther November 27, 2015 at 11:00 am #

      Is what I need it!!waaoh…cultural is ant-development of any society Although there are some foods which are not allowed to eat women(pregnant mother)

  53. Deogratias Bankana December 6, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    what are the cultural determinants of human developments in school learning

  54. mahenge faustin February 17, 2016 at 9:27 am #

    I got a good thing from here,thanks Mr Jeremy Williams.

  55. selinah March 21, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    I Am in the middle of doing my research thanks for this it has been helpful a lot.

  56. Emachar Cecilia April 7, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    It has helped me to answer the question i was asked by my Lecturer..Thanx alot..

  57. flora magamba April 20, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    whatabout social and cultural factors affecting population?

  58. Mafabi Simon August 6, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    Its due to various cultures and norms that many people tend to cram that hinders DEVELOPMENT!

  59. kathylyn mwikali November 9, 2016 at 8:41 am #

    this is because the social-cultural factors of of any place is reflected in its system of education…. this system reveals cultural concepts and patterns

  60. MaxiProxies November 13, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

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  61. Selly snib November 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm #

    Educative piece.. I really learnt a lot and it also helped in my assignment.. Can u pls help with this question?eexamine the contribution of culture in both societal transformation and economic development and explain why critics often blame the African cultural orientation for the continents economic challenge

  62. joseck opande November 23, 2016 at 7:40 am #

    i appreciate your work, it has helped me with my question. keep it up

  63. Victor February 1, 2017 at 12:02 am #

    You are not informed about Catalans. Catalonia has historically received better treatment from the Spanish central government than any other region, except the Basquese

    Both received tariff protection so thers manufactured goods had no foreign competition for decades.

    • Jeremy Williams February 2, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

      If you go back and read it again, I say Catalans faced these issues ‘historically’. Like when the language was suppressed under Franco or banned altogether in the 1700s.


  1. What we learned this week « MAKE WEALTH HISTORY - June 21, 2009

    […] article on cultural and social factors that affect development is required reading on the International Relations course at the International University at […]

  2. Geographical factors that affect development « Make Wealth History - June 7, 2010

    […] Cultural and social factors: discrimination, population and culture. […]

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