Random drift and culture change

R. Alexander Bentley, Matthew W. Hahn, S.J. Shennan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

312 Citations (Scopus)


We show that the frequency distributions of cultural variants, in three different real-world examples--first names, archaeological pottery and applications for technology patents--follow power laws that can be explained by a simple model of random drift. We conclude that cultural and economic choices often reflect a decision process that is value-neutral; this result has far-reaching testable implications for social-science research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1443-1450
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1547
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2004


  • cultural evolution
  • random genetic drift
  • patents
  • first names
  • pottery


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