We develop an economic theory of tolerance where endogenous lifestyles and exogenous
traits are invested with symbolic value by people. Value systems are rationally chosen by
parents for their children. In conjunction with actual behavior, value systems determine
the esteem enjoyed by individuals. Intolerant individuals attach all symbolic value to a
small number of attributes and are irrespectful of people with di¤erent ones. Tolerant
people have diversi ed values and respect social alterity. We study the formation of values
attached to various types of attributes and identify circumstances under which tolerance
spontaneously arises. Policy may a¤ect the evolution of tolerance in distinctive ways, and
there may be e¢ ciency as well as equity reasons to promote tolerance.
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