Sascha O. Becker, Yuan Hsiao, Steven Pfaff, Jared Rubin, 27 November 2020

The Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther, was one of the most transformative periods of European (if not world) history in the second millennium. How did this movement succeed? This column offers a theory that combines relational diffusion (via Luther’s network ties) with spatial diffusion (via trade routes in the Holy Roman Empire), and substantiates this theory using data on Luther’s letters, travels, and students. Luther’s network alone does not explain the success of the Reformation, but his network in combination with the pre-existing ties created by trade routes explains much of its success.

Emmanuelle Auriol, Julie Lassébie, Amma Panin, Eva Raiber, Paul Seabright, 19 September 2020

The Pentecostal church is one of the fastest-growing segments of Christianity, including in sub-Saharan Africa. The church makes a strong and explicit link between ‘giving to God’ and future wellbeing; donations can be seen as a form of insurance for the future. This column tests how formal market-based insurance affects the demand for informal church-based insurance in Accra, Ghana. People enrolled in a formal insurance policy give less money to their church and to other charitable organisations.

Felix Kersting, Iris Wohnsiedler, Nikolaus Wolf, 11 July 2020

Max Weber famously hypothesised that the Protestant work ethic fostered modern economic development. Does religion matter for economic success? This column revisits Weber’s hypothesis in the context of 19th-century Prussia. Protestantism did not matter for savings, literacy rates, or income levels across Prussian counties after 1870. Instead, there are large differences between ethnic groups, likely due to ethnic discrimination. Nationalism must be taken into account to understand Weber’s writings.

Sascha O. Becker, Jared Rubin, Ludger Woessmann, 12 July 2020

Over the past two decades, analysis of the relevance of religion has entered centre stage in the study of economic history, addressing questions such as how religion and religious beliefs in God and the afterlife have historically affected economies, and how historical socioeconomic circumstances have shaped religious beliefs and activities. This column derives a few general insights emerging from the rapidly growing literature.

Jeanet Bentzen, 09 June 2020

In times of crisis, humans have a tendency to turn to religion for comfort and explanation. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Using daily data on Google searches for 95 countries, this column demonstrates that the COVID-19 crisis has increased Google searches for prayer (relative to all Google searches) to the highest level ever recorded. By the end of March 2020, more than half of the world population had prayed to ‘end the coronavirus’. Prayer searches rose at all levels of income, inequality, and insecurity, but not for the 10% least religious countries.

Mara Squicciarini, 18 August 2019

Religion has had a complex relationship with technological progress throughout history, but there is scant empirical evidence on how conservative religious values may have affected the spread of new ideas and, by extension, economic development. This column examines the influence of the Catholic Church on technical education in France during the Second Industrial Revolution. It finds that areas with higher ‘religiosity’ had lower levels of industrial and economic development, suggesting that conservative religion can hamper economic development when it prevents primary schools from adopting technical education.

Felipe Valencia Caicedo, 20 October 2018

Though volumes have been written about Jesuit Missions in South America, very little is known about their long-term economic legacy. Using a novel dataset, this column argues that the 17th century Guarani Jesuit Missions had long-lasting positive effects on education and income. It also suggests cultural and occupational mechanisms that might be driving the persistent effects observed. 

Simeon Djankov, Elena Nikolova, 26 April 2018

While the existing scholarship has explained long-run institutional development across countries with a variety of different factors, the literature remains largely silent on the role of religion. Using survey data, this column shows that deep-rooted theological differences between Orthodoxy, and Catholicism and Protestantism affect life satisfaction and other attitudes and values in large parts of Europe today. Although totalitarian governments suppressed religious activities, they preserved those aspects of Orthodoxy – such as tradition and communitarianism – which were helpful for advancing the communist doctrine.

Thomas Andersen, Jeanet Bentzen, Carl-Johan Dalgaard, Paul Sharp, 23 October 2017

Examples of the interaction of religious influence and economic performance have occurred throughout history, most notable Weber’s argument of the ‘Protestant ethic’. This column uses an earlier example, of the Cistercian Catholic Order, to show that religious values did influence productivity and economic performance in England and across Europe. The effect of this historic influence has persisted to today.

Julia Cagé, Valeria Rueda, 04 March 2017

Throughout history, religious change is known to have brought about significant economic change in many countries. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, looks at the effects of the Christian missionary activity that expanded throughout African countries from the middle of the 19th century. It shows how the diversity of investments brought by Christian missionaries to the region had different, and sometimes conflicting, effects on long-term development.

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg, 27 June 2015

Cultural transmission occurs both vertically – from one generation to the next – and, increasingly in modern times, horizontally – within generations and across populations. Using novel data for 74 countries, this column explores how genetic relatedness between populations affects the transmission of cultural traits. A pattern of positive and significant relationships is found between genetic distance and various measures of cultural distance, including language, religion, values, and norms. This implies that populations that are ancestrally closer face lower barriers to learning new ideas and behaviours from each other.

Roland Bénabou, Davide Ticchi , Andrea Vindigni, 19 April 2015

History offers many examples of the recurring tensions between science and organized religion, but as part of the paper’s motivating evidence we also uncover a new fact: in both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant and robust negative relationship between religiosity and patents per capita. Three long-term outcomes emerge. First, a "Secularization" or "Western-European" regime with declining religiosity, unimpeded science, a passive Church and high levels of taxes and transfers. Second, a "Theocratic" regime with knowledge stagnation, extreme religiosity with no modernization effort, and high public spending on religious public goods. In-between is a third, "American" regime that generally (not always) combines scientific progress and stable religiosity within a range where religious institutions engage in doctrinal adaptation.

Francesco Giavazzi, Ivan Petkov, Fabio Schiantarelli, 16 June 2014

The persistence of cultural attitudes is an important determinant of the success of institutional reforms, and of the impact of immigration on a country’s culture. This column presents evidence from a study of European immigrants to the US. Some cultural traits – such as deep religious values – are highly persistent, whereas others – such as attitudes towards cooperation and redistribution – change more quickly. Many cultural attitudes evolve significantly between the second and fourth generations, and the persistence of different attitudes varies across countries of origin.

Julia Cagé, Valeria Rueda, 14 May 2014

African regions where Protestant missionaries were active had indigenous newspapers a century before other regions. This column argues, based on new research, that this difference has had lasting effects. Proximity to a mission that had a printing press in 1903 predicts newspaper readership today. Population density and light density (a proxy for economic development) is also higher today in regions nearer to missions that had printing presses. The results suggest that a well-functioning media – not Protestantism per se – was important for development.

Sascha O. Becker, Ludger Woessmann, 15 January 2012

Does religion affect suicide? This column presents new evidence from 19th century Prussia showing that suicide rates are much higher in Protestant than in Catholic areas, and that this reflects a causal effect of Protestantism. It also suggests that economic modelling can help understand why this is so.

Jared Rubin, 22 December 2011

The economic rise of Europe and its offshoots relative to the rest of the world is of intrinsic interest to those concerned with the mechanisms underlying economic success and stagnation. This column argues that differences in the legitimising relationship between political and religious authorities in Europe and the Middle East have contributed to the economic divergence between the two regions in the last half-millennium.

Bruno S. Frey, Jana Gallus, 02 October 2011

Is religion a ‘crutch for the weak’? This column looks at data on religion and life satisfaction from across the globe and argues that it might just be insurance for the unhappy.

Marco Francesconi, Christian Ghiglino, Motty Perry, 11 February 2010

Why do people form long-lasting marital unions? This column presents new insights on what makes a family stick together. Families dominate more promiscuous pairs, in the sense that they can achieve greater survivorship and enhanced genetic fitness. The column suggests that this might provide an evolutionary explanation for the origin of religion as an institution to protect the family.

Esther Duflo, 20 April 2009

In Africa, where AIDS afflicts 22 million people, most religions promote abstinence and fidelity as the best way to stop the epidemic, especially among adolescents. This column describes two randomised experiments in Kenya showing that a general risk-avoidance message does not change behaviour, whereas a clear message on the relative risks of different sexual partners does.

Andrew Gelman, David Park, Boris Shor, Jeronimo Cortina, 21 April 2008

Barack Obama attracted attention recently by describing small-town Americans who were “bitter” at economic prospects who “cling to guns or religion’’ in frustration. But an opposite view, 'post-materialism', suggests that, as people and societies get richer, their concerns shift from mundane bread-and-butter issues to cultural and spiritual concerns.



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