Edie and Lew Wasserman Professor of Social Sciences
Jean Ensminger is an economic anthropologist whose research sits at the interface of anthropology, economics, political science, and development. She has conducted four decades of research in one African society. Her early work traced the origins of a market economy. This was followed by two decades of work in experimental economics. Her current research focuses on corruption in development, including aid, and the ethnography of corruption in a rural African setting.
Ensminger has conducted a long-term study of one African society spanning four decades (Making a Market: The Institutional Transformation of an African Society, Cambridge University Press). Her early work in the political economy of development used insights from new institutional economics and analyzed property rights, transaction costs, principal-agent relations, and the relationship between economic incentives and a range of social and economic behaviors.
Beginning in the early 2000's, Ensminger was co-principal investigator, with Joseph Henrich, of the Roots of Human Sociality Project, which used economic experiments in small-scale societies around the world to understand the co-evolution of market institutions and pro-social norms of fairness, trust, cooperation, and norm enforcement. This work appeared in Science (2006 and 2010) and in two volumes, the last of which was published in 2014 (Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Russell Sage Foundation).
She taught for many years at Washington University in St. Louis before moving to Caltech in 2000. She is a past president of the Society for Economic Anthropology and served as chair of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Caltech from 2002 to 2006. In 2006–2007 she was a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, and in 2011 she was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship recipient.
- 2012 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow
- 2006-2007 Visiting Scholar, Russell Sage Foundation
- Jean Ensminger and Joseph Henrich, eds.
2014 Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation Press.
- Joseph Henrich and Jean Ensminger
2014 Theoretical Foundations: The Coevolution of Social Norms, Intrinsic Motivation, Markets, and the Institutions of Complex Societies (Chapter 2). In: Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Jean Ensminger and Joseph Henrich, eds. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation Press.
- Jean Ensminger, Abigail Barr, and Joseph Henrich
2014 Cross-Cultural Experimental Methods, Sites, and Variables (Chapter 3). In: Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Jean Ensminger and Joseph Henrich, eds. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation Press.
- Joseph Henrich, Jean Ensminger, Richard McElreath, Abigail Barr, Clark Barrett, Alexander Bolyanatz, Juan Camilo Cardenas, Michael Gurven, Edwins Gwako, Natalie Henrich, Carolyn Lesorogol, Frank Marlowe, David Tracer, and John Ziker
2010 Markets, Religion, Community Size and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment. Science. March 327: 1480-1484.
- Joseph Henrich, Richard McElreath, Abigail Barr, Jean Ensminger, Clark Barrett, Alexander Bolyanatz, Juan Camilo Cardenas, Michael Gurven, Edwins Gwako, Natalie Henrich, Carolyn Lesorogol, Frank Marlowe, David Tracer, and John Ziker
2006 Costly Punishment Across Human Societies. Science. June 312(23): 1767-1770.
- Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, Richard McElreath, Michael Alvard, Abigail Barr, Jean Ensminger, Natalie Smith Henrich, Kim Hill, Francisco Gil-White, Michael Gurven, Frank Marlowe, John Q. Patton, and David Tracer
2005 'Economic Man' in Cross-cultural Perspective: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-scale Societies. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences Dec 28(6):795-815; discussion 815-855.
- Jean Ensminger
1997 Transaction Costs and Islam: Explaining Conversion in Africa. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 152(1):4-29.
- Jean Ensminger and Jack Knight
1997 Changing Social Norms: Common Property, Bridewealth, and Clan Exogamy (with CA comment). Current Anthropology 38(1)1-24.
- Jean Ensminger
1997 Changing Property Rights: Reconciling Formal and Informal Rights to Land in Africa. Chapter 8 in: The Frontiers of the New Institutional Economics, John N. Drobak and John V.C. Nye, eds. Pp. 165-198. New York, New York: Academic Press.