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The Church Versus the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?

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  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Daniel M. Hungerman

Abstract

Recently economists have begun to consider the causes and consequences of religious participation. An unanswered question in this literature is the effect upon individuals of changes in the opportunity cost of religious participation. In this paper we identify a policy-driven change in the opportunity cost of religious participation based on state laws that prohibit retail activity on Sunday, known as "blue laws." Many states have repealed these laws in recent years, raising the opportunity cost of religious participation. We use a variety of data sets to show that when a state repeals its blue laws religious attendance falls and that church donations and spending fall as well. These results do not seem to be driven by declines in religiosity prior to the law change, nor do we see comparable declines in membership in or giving to nonreligious organizations after a state repeals its laws. We then assess the effects of changes in these laws on drinking and drug use behavior in the NLSY. We find that repealing blue laws leads to an increase in drinking and drug use and that this increase is found only among the initially religious individuals who were affected by the blue laws. The effect is economically significant; for example, the gap in heavy drinking between religious and nonreligious individuals falls by about half after the laws are repealed.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Gruber & Daniel M. Hungerman, 2008. "The Church Versus the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(2), pages 831-862.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:123:y:2008:i:2:p:831-862.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1162/qjec.2008.123.2.831
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