Economic Effects of Religion

From the Boston Globe comes an interesting article, “The Curious Economic Effects of Religion.”

Their results show a strong correlation between economic growth and certain shifts in beliefs, though only in developing countries. Most strikingly, if belief in hell jumps up sharply while actual church attendance stays flat, it correlates with economic growth. Belief in heaven also has a similar effect, though less pronounced. Mere belief in God has no effect one way or the other. Meanwhile, if church attendance actually rises, it slows growth in developing economies.

Religion can, quite directly, affect what you earn – fundamentalists and evangelicals in the United States tend to have lower savings rates and incomes than members of other religions, in part because they have larger families and give away more of their money.

Similarly, literacy seems clearly connected with economic development, and mass literacy is a Protestant invention, says Robert D. Woodberry, a sociologist at University of Texas at Austin [italics mine -ed]. He has mapped how missionaries spread literacy, technology, and civic institutions, and finds that those correlate strongly with economic growth. He argues in part that this helps explain why the once-poor but largely Protestant United States surpassed rich, Catholic Mexico after 1800.

Fascinating stuff.