Dr BooKang Seol is LSE Fellow in the Department of International Development at LSE. His research interests are development economics, applied microeconomics, and economic history. He is also interested in better understanding how economic policies can have different outcomes depending on the local context.
In one of Seol's working papers, he explore how pre-existing social contexts, such as fractionalization, shape policy outcomes. Social fractionalization along dimensions like ethnicity or class can stunt economic development. He investigate how fractionalization affects a group’s ability to respond to economic shocks by studying rural South Korea in the 1970s. Social groups in rural Korea were defined by one dominant characteristic: extended kin network identified by family name. Some villages displayed high homogeneity, with as many as 90% of households sharing a family name. This unique social context offers a reliable measure of social fractionalization that is otherwise complex and difficult to measure. Seol combines this cross-sectional variation with the time variation in market access created by the construction of a new bridge, the Namhae bridge, in 1973. He finds that homogeneous villages displayed higher agricultural investments and productivity growth than heterogeneous villages following the bridge construction. Homogeneous villages better-exploited opportunities created by the bridge by providing complementary local public goods more effectively than heterogeneous villages. Finally, heterogeneous villages did catch up, consistent with spillovers or demonstration effects.