Origins and Consequences of Regional Identity: Evidence from Historical Differences in Political Instability and Fragmentation among German States

Dr. Fabian Wahl, Hohenheim (Principal Investigator)


This project empirically investigates the historical roots of regional identities and their consequences on political attitudes towards issues like international trade, the European Union, federalism or migration. The hypothesis advanced in the project is that people living in regions that historically belonged to a lot of different states have a weaker regional identity than people living in regions with a stable state history. Germany is a suitable country for studying this as historically, the area of contemporary Germany was characterized by a uniquely high level of political fragmentation with several hundreds of states existing in a loose political federation called the Holy Roman Empire.

On the one hand, regional identity is measured using survey data from the SOEP./WVS On the other hand, we are using the frequency of certain street names (prevalence of regional given names etc.) or the share of old-county license plates (Altkreiskennzeichen) in a municipality. The main explanatory variable of interest is the number of states to which a certain region or grid cell in Germany historically belonged to. We also want to assess using experiments and survey question whether regional identity is related to trust and social capital and thus is significantly connected to economic development.  To identify the causal effect of historical political stability on regional identities we want to exploit knowledge about the reasons why historical states disappeared. We can utilize the fact that many of the states ceased to exist due to largely exogenous/ idiosyncratic reasons like the death of the ruler without a male heir.



Lehmann-Hasemeyer, S./Wahl, F. (2020): Saving banks and the Industrial Revolution in Prussia - supporting regional development with public financial institutions. in: Hohenheimer Discussion papers, 18-2017; Economic History Review,