Course on Evolution and Economics

Course Description:

This course provides an introduction to evolutionary theory and its applications to modern economics. We start by introducing formal models of the driving forces of evolution: replication, selection, and mutation. We then focus on the evolution of cooperative behavior, which plays an important role in social systems. Next we investigate how these forces have shaped human preferences and behaviors that are typically taken as given in economic models. Finally, we discuss the evolution of social and economic systems like the economy we live in.


The course is open to advanced undergraduate students in both the social sciences and the natural sciences. The formal requirement for the course is having successfully completed a calculus course 110.106 – 109, a statistics course 550.111 – 113 or higher, and either 180.301 Microeconomic Theory or an advanced calculus-based probability or statistics course 550.310, 311, 420, 430 or 435.

I strongly recommend that you refresh your math skills in preparation for the course.

Textbook and Readings:

The main recommended textbook for the course is “Evolutionary Dynamics” by Martin Nowak (2006), ISBN 978-0674023383. The book provides an excellent introduction to formal models of evolutionary theory and will be used approximately in the first half of the course.

In addition, we will cover a number of academic papers that can be accessed online through the library website and that are listed in the references below.

Class Preparation, Attendance and Participation:

Students are expected to be prepared for each lecture by studying the textbook chapters and/or reading materials as indicated below. Preparing all of these materials will help you to actively and effectively participate in classroom discussions. Regular class attendance and participation is an expectation. You will be responsible for all the preparatory materials and the materials covered in class in your assignments and quizzes.

Composition of Grade:

10 % Class participation

15 % Problem Sets (5% each)

40 % Quizzes (20 % each)

10 % Preliminary presentation

10 % Final presentation

15 % Final paper

There will be no opportunities for extra credit. If at any point during the semester you face circumstances which may prevent you from handing in an assignment, making a presentation and/or participating in a quiz, please contact me as soon as possible to discuss ways to manage the situation. There is little that can be done after an unsatisfactory grade has been assigned.

Medical Excuses and Religious Holidays:

Students or a guardian must email me prior to class to inform me if they will miss a class assignment, quiz, presentation, exam, or other deadline due to illness or injury. In the very next class session that you are in attendance, present me with written documentation of your illness/injury (a copy of your medical notes is acceptable). If you do not inform me or if you do not present me with timely documentation, you will obtain zero points for the missed assignment. If you are unable to meet a deadline due to a religious holiday, make sure to notify me as early in the semester as possible.

If you will have to miss a regular class in which no assignment, quiz, presentation, or exam is due for an excused reason as per university policy (religious holiday or illness), please notify me by email as soon as you find out about the circumstance that will prevent you from attending.

Disability Services:

Any student with a disability who may need accommodations in this class must obtain an accommodation letter from Student Disability Services, 385 Garland, (410) 516-4720, Please hand in this letter at the beginning of the semester so we can plan in advance how to accommodate your needs. Unsatisfactory grades cannot be changed retroactively.


There will be two quizzes over the course of the semester. The materials covered in the quizzes will be cumulative. If you fail to take a quiz, you will receive a zero score, unless your absence is due to an excused reason and you notify me in advance and you provide documentation as soon as possible.

You are responsible for all materials in the relevant chapters of the textbook and in the mandatory readings (see below) and for the materials covered in my lectures. If you miss lectures, make sure to copy the notes of one of your colleagues.

Problem Sets:

There will be three mandatory problem sets throughout the semester, each of which will be given equal weight. The problem sets will help you to digest the materials covered in class and will be useful in your preparation for the quizzes. Therefore I assign an important weight of the final grade to your performance on problem sets.

There is a special late policy for problem sets: If you will have to miss a class, turn in your problem set by leaving it in my mailbox in the main office of the economics department or by slipping it under my office door (456 Mergenthaler) before the beginning of class. If you are late, I will drop 33% of the points if you hand it in after class the same day and 50% of the points if you hand it in the day after its due date. Later submissions will not receive any credit.

Final Paper (Team Project):

The main deliverable at the end of the course is a final paper that you are expected to develop in a team of four students. The paper should be on a topic closely related to the course. A list of potential topics is indicated at the end of this syllabus. These cover a broad range of topics related to evolution and economics. However, you can also suggest an alternative topic (together with a detailed list of rigorous academic literature) and we can discuss if they are appropriate for the course.

You are expected to pick a team and a topic by Feb 20. To help you in the preparation of the final paper, we will have special office hours for each team to discuss their project with me in the week of Feb 24. Furthermore, you are expected to make a class presentation and deliver a draft on March 27, on which you will receive comments. You will make a final presentation and deliver the final copy of the paper (about 15 – 20 pages) by May 1.

When you submit your draft and your final paper, please include the following pledge:

“I attest that I have completed this paper without unauthorized assistance from any person, materials, or device.”

[Dated and signed by all team members]

Academic Integrity:

The strength of the university depends on academic and personal integrity. In this course, you must be honest and truthful. Ethical violations include cheating on exams, plagiarism, reuse of assignments, improper use of the Internet and electronic devices, unauthorized collaboration, alteration of graded assignments, forgery and falsification, lying, facilitating academic dishonesty, and unfair competition.

In addition, there are two specific ethics guidelines for this course:

(1) For problem sets, you are allowed to collaborate in teams of up to four students. If you do so, please list at the beginning of the problem set who the other members of your team are. Nonetheless, students are responsible for handing in their own assignment and will be graded solely on what they handed in themselves. Do not blindly copy the problem sets of your colleagues – remember that carefully working through them and fully understanding them is the best preparation possible for the quizzes.

(2) In your course paper, make sure to avoid any form of plagiarism. In particular, any resources that you draw on must be explicitly cited. Furthermore, do not use any sources verbatim (except if you explicitly quote up to two sentences “in quotation marks”).

Report any violations you witness to the instructor. You may also consult the associate dean of student affairs and/or the chairman of the Ethics Board beforehand. See the guide on “Academic Ethics for Undergraduates” and the Ethics Board Web site ( for more information.

Course Evaluations:

At the end of the semester, please let me know what you liked and what you disliked about this class by taking advantage of the University's on-line course evaluation system. I really appreciate your feedback – incorporating your suggestions will help me in improving the course for future generations of students.