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Why churches need free-riders: Religious capital formation and religious group survival

Listed author(s):
  • McBride, Michael

Prevailing theory claims that churches thrive when they overcome the free-rider problem. However, this paper argues that religious organizations need free-riders in a dynamic setting. If individuals’ contributions to congregations increase as their exposure to religion increases, then allowing potential members to free-ride temporarily may increase future membership and contribution levels. Free-riders thus comprise a risky but necessary investment by the church. Strict churches screen out riskier investments yet still allow some free-riding, while ultra-strict churches screen out all but members’ children. This new theory yields predictions consistent with stylized empirical facts.

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File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214804315000828
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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics).

Volume (Year): 58 (2015)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 77-87

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Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:58:y:2015:i:c:p:77-87
DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2015.07.001
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/620175

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  1. Simon Fan, C., 2008. "Religious participation and children's education: A social capital approach," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 303-317, February.
  2. Azzi, Corry & Ehrenberg, Ronald G, 1975. "Household Allocation of Time and Church Attendance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 83(1), pages 27-56, February.
  3. Laurence R. Iannaccone, 1998. "Introduction to the Economics of Religion," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1465-1495, September.
  4. Tomer, John F., 2001. "Addictions are not rational: a socio-economic model of addictive behavior," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 243-261, May.
  5. Marc von der Ruhr, 2012. "Examining megachurch growth: free riding, fit, and faith," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 39(5), pages 357-372, April.
  6. Becker, Gary S & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(4), pages 675-700, August.
  7. 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 271-291, April.
  8. Laurence R. Iannaccone, 1998. "Corrigenda [Introduction to the Economics of Religion]," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(4), pages 1941-1941, December.
  9. Michael Spence, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-374.
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