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Pay or Pray? The Impact of Charitable Subsidies on Religious Attendance

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  • Jonathan Gruber

Abstract

The economic argument for subsidizing charitable giving relies on the positive externalities of charitable activities, particularly from the religious institutions that are the largest recipients of giving. But the net external effects of subsidies to religious giving will also depend on a potentially important indirect effect as well: impacts on religious participation. Religious participation can be either a complement to, or a substitute with, the level of charitable giving. Understanding these spillover effects of charitable giving may be quite important, given the existing observational literature that suggests that religiosity is a major determinant of well-being among Americans. In this paper I investigate the impact of charitable subsidies on a measure of religious participation, attendance at religious services. I do so by using data over three decades from the General Social Survey, as well as confirming the impact of such subsidies on religious giving using the Consumer Expenditure Survey. I find strong evidence that religious giving and religious attendance are substitutes: larger subsidies to charitable giving lead to more religious giving, but less religious attendance, with an implied elasticity of attendance with respect to religious giving of -0.92. These results have important implications for the debate over charitable subsidies. They also serve to validate economic models of religious participation.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10374.

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Date of creation: Mar 2004
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10374

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  1. Clotfelter, Charles T., 1985. "Federal Tax Policy and Charitable Giving," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226110486, Winter.
  2. Laurence R. Iannaccone, 1998. "Introduction to the Economics of Religion," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1465-1495, September.
  3. Randolph, William C, 1995. "Dynamic Income, Progressive Taxes, and the Timing of Charitable Contributions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(4), pages 709-38, August.
  4. Barrett, Kevin S. & McGuirk, Anya M. & Steinberg, Richard S., 1997. "Further Evidence on the Dynamic Impact of Taxes on Charitable Giving," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 50(2), pages 321-34, June Cita.
  5. Iannaccone, Laurence R, 1992. "Sacrifice and Stigma: Reducing Free-Riding in Cults, Communes, and Other Collectives," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(2), pages 271-91, April.
  6. Sullivan, Dennis H, 1985. "Simultaneous Determination of Church Contributions and Church Attendance," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 23(2), pages 309-20, April.
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Cited by:
  1. Barış K. Yörük, 2013. "The Impact of Charitable Subsidies on Religious Giving and Attendance: Evidence from Panel Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(5), pages 1708-1721, December.
  2. Rajeev Dehejia & Thomas DeLeire & Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2005. "Insuring Consumption and Happiness Through Religious Organizations," NBER Working Papers 11576, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Nicolas J. Duquette, 2013. "Do Tax Incentives Affect Charitable Contributions? Evidence from Public Charities’ Reported Revenues," 2013 Papers pdu359, Job Market Papers.
  4. Teemu Lyytikäinen & Torsten Santavirta, 2013. "The effect of church tax on church membership," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 26(3), pages 1175-1193, July.
  5. S. Brock Blomberg & Thomas DeLeire & Gregory D. Hess, 2006. "The (After) Life-Cycle Theory of Religious Contributions," CESifo Working Paper Series 1854, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Holmes, Jessica, 2009. "Prestige, charitable deductions and other determinants of alumni giving: Evidence from a highly selective liberal arts college," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 18-28, February.
  7. Daniel M. Hungerman, 2011. "Substitution and Stigma: Evidence on Religious Competition from the Catholic Sex-Abuse Scandal," NBER Working Papers 17589, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. James Andreoni & Abigail Payne, 2007. "Crowding out Both Sides of the Philanthropy Market: Evidence from a Panel of Charities," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001769, UCLA Department of Economics.
  9. Andreoni, James & Payne, A. Abigail, 2011. "Is crowding out due entirely to fundraising? Evidence from a panel of charities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(5), pages 334-343.
  10. Susan Dynarski & Jonathan Gruber & Danielle Li, 2009. "Cheaper By the Dozen: Using Sibling Discounts at Catholic Schools to Estimate the Price Elasticity of Private School Attendance," NBER Working Papers 15461, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Tan, Jonathan H.W., 2006. "Religion and social preferences: An experimental study," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 90(1), pages 60-67, January.
  12. Jonathan Gruber, 2005. "Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation, and Outcomes: Is Religion Good for You?," NBER Working Papers 11377, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Helms, Sara E. & Thornton, Jeremy P., 2012. "The influence of religiosity on charitable behavior: A COPPS investigation," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 41(4), pages 373-383.
  14. Brown, Timothy Tyler, 2009. "Rational praying: The economics of prayer," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 37-44, January.
  15. Baris Yoruk, 2013. "Do Charitable Subsidies Crowd Out Political Giving? The Missing Link Between Charitable and Political Contributions," Discussion Papers 13-09, University at Albany, SUNY, Department of Economics.

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