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Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History

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  • Sascha O. Becker
  • Ludger Woessmann

Abstract

Max Weber attributed the higher economic prosperity of Protestant regions to a Protestant work ethic. We provide an alternative theory: Protestant economies prospered because instruction in reading the Bible generated the human capital crucial to economic prosperity. We test the theory using county-level data from late-nineteenth-century Prussia, exploiting the initial concentric dispersion of the Reformation to use distance to Wittenberg as an instrument for Protestantism. We find that Protestantism indeed led to higher economic prosperity, but also to better education. Our results are consistent with Protestants' higher literacy accounting for most of the gap in economic prosperity.

Suggested Citation

  • Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2009. "Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 531-596.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:124:y:2009:i:2:p:531-596.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1162/qjec.2009.124.2.531
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General

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