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Does Religion Really Reduce Crime?

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  • Heaton, Paul

Abstract

Considerable research in sociology, criminology, and economics aims to understand the effect of religiosity on crime. Many sociological theories positing a deterrent effect of religion on crime are empirically examined using ordinary least squares (OLS) cross-sectional regressions of crime measures on measures of religiosity. Most previous studies have found a negative effect of religion on crime using OLS, a result I am able to replicate using county-level data on religious membership and crime rates. If crime affects religious participation, however, OLS coefficients in this context suffer from endogeneity bias. Using historic religiosity as an instrument for current religious participation, I find a negligible effect of religion on crime and a negative effect of crime on religion. To further explore the relationship between religion and crime, I examine variation in crime incidence before and after Easter. Consistent with the instrumental variables results, I find no evidence of a decrease in crime following Easter.

Suggested Citation

  • Heaton, Paul, 2006. "Does Religion Really Reduce Crime?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(1), pages 147-172, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:y:2006:v:49:i:1:p:147-72
    DOI: 10.1086/501087
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-838, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Berggren, Niclas & Bjã˜Rnskov, Christian, 2013. "Does religiosity promote property rights and the rule of law?," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(2), pages 161-185, June.
    2. Paolo Buonanno & Daniel Montolio & Paolo Vanin, 2009. "Does Social Capital Reduce Crime?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(1), pages 145-170, February.
    3. Herzer Dierk, 2018. "An empirical note on the long-run relationship between education and religiosity in Christian countries," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 18(1), pages 1-8, January.
    4. Berggren, Niclas & Ljunge, Martin, 2017. "Does Religion Make You Sick? Evidence of a Negative Relationship between Religious Background and Health," Working Paper Series 1173, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    5. Jörg L. Spenkuch, 2010. "The Protestant Ethic and Work: Micro Evidence from Contemporary Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 330, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    6. Paolo Buonanno & Giacomo Pasini & Paolo Vanin, 2012. "Crime and social sanction," Papers in Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 91(1), pages 193-218, March.
    7. Entorf, Horst, 2013. "Criminal Victims, Victimized Criminals, or Both? A Deeper Look at the Victim-Offender Overlap," IZA Discussion Papers 7686, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Suziedelyte, A., 2019. "Is it only a game? Video games and violence," Working Papers 19/15, Department of Economics, City University London.

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