Francesco Giavazzi, Ivan Petkov, Fabio Schiantarelli16 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.
Thomas Dohmen, Armin Falk , David Huffman , Uwe Sunde
Are a person’s values and beliefs persistent, or do they evolve – possibly rather quickly – in response to the economic and institutional environment? This is a central question, for instance, if one is interested in assessing the likelihood of success of reforms that change rules within a country. Are such reforms doomed because a country’s culture cannot be changed, or can they succeed because they can change cultural attitudes by altering incentives, and if so, over what time horizon?
Newspaper readership, civic attitudes, and economic development: Evidence from the history of African media
Julia Cagé, Valeria Rueda14 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.
Poor governance due to lack of political accountability is often cited as an explanation for the low level of economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of political accountability can emerge when voters do not choose their candidates according to their expected performance. In sub-Saharan Africa, voters often use the ethnic profile of a candidate as an informational shortcut for the candidate’s political agenda (Ichino and Nathan 2013). As a consequence, politicians rely on tribal allegiances that deliver the votes of co-ethnics irrespective of performance (Casey 2013).
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.
As early as 1897, French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1897) in his classic Le suicide presented aggregate indicators suggesting that Protestantism was a leading correlate of suicide incidence. The proposition that Protestants have higher suicide rates than Catholics has been “accepted widely enough for nomination as sociology’s one law” (Pope and Danigelis 1981).
Institutions, religion, and the rise of Europe vis-à-vis the Middle East: A long-run reversal of fortunes
Jared Rubin22 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.
By almost any available economic measure, the Middle East, China, and India were ahead of Europe one thousand years ago. Their science and technology were more advanced than in Europe, their trade flowed in higher volumes and over longer distances, and they employed more complicated financial instruments to facilitate trade. Yet as early as the 17th century Western Europe was clearly on a path to dominate much of the rest of the world economically, technologically, and militarily – eventually colonising much of the world’s land mass.
Modern happiness research leaves no doubt that religious people are happier than their contemporaries. And the causality runs from religion to happiness (though it might also be possible that religious people are less interested in material aspects and, therefore, less affluent).
Marco Francesconi, Christian Ghiglino, Motty Perry11 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.
Why do humans live in families? The fact that only 3% of avian and mammal species are known to be familial suggests that the emergence of the family cannot be taken for granted, even among humans (Emlen 1995). Divorce is a common feature of modern life and non-traditional family structures are growing more common.
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.
On his first visit to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated that the distribution of condoms by health authorities won’t resolve the AIDS epidemic in Africa, adding that “on the contrary, it increases the problem.”
Andrew Gelman, David Park, Boris Shor, Jeronimo Cortina21 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.
Barack Obama attracted attention recently by describing small-town Americans who were “bitter” at economic prospects who “cling to guns or religion’’ in frustration. This statement, made during the height of the Democratic nomination battle, has received a lot of attention, but it represents a common view.
By examining whether religion has any impact on decision-making that promotes economic growth, i.e. the decision to become an entrepreneur, the authors of DP6378 aim to shed light on two questions: (1) What are the channels by which religion influences economics and (2) Are the impacts on economic activity the same across all religions?
Although a number of economists have argued that religion plays a fundamental role in shaping economics, only scant attention has recently been given as to how and why religion might act as a determinant of economic activity. It has been suggested that values and attitudes are as much a part of the economy as institutions and policies are. In addition, empirical findings raise several important but unanswered questions: (1) What are the channels by which religion influences economics and (2) Are the impacts on economic activity the same across all religions?
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