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Social Cohesion, Religious Beliefs, and the Effect of Protestantism on Suicide

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  • Sascha O. Becker
  • Ludger Woessmann

Abstract

In an economic theory of suicide, we model social cohesion of the religious community and religious beliefs about afterlife as two mechanisms by which Protestantism increases suicide propensity. We build a unique micro-regional dataset of 452 Prussian counties in 1816-21 and 1869-71, when religiousness was still pervasive. Exploiting the concentric dispersion of Protestantism around Wittenberg, our instrumental-variable model finds that Protestantism had a substantial positive effect on suicide. We address issues of bias from mental illness, misreporting, weather conditions, within-county heterogeneity, religious concentration, and gender composition. Tests that discriminate between the two mechanisms based on historical church-attendance data and modern suicide data suggest that the sociological channel dominates the theological channel.

Suggested Citation

  • Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2015. "Social Cohesion, Religious Beliefs, and the Effect of Protestantism on Suicide," CESifo Working Paper Series 5288, CESifo.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_5288
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Oswald, Andrew J, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1815-1831, November.
    2. 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.
    3. Daly, Mary C. & Oswald, Andrew J. & Wilson, Daniel & Wu, Stephen, 2011. "Dark contrasts: The paradox of high rates of suicide in happy places," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 80(3), pages 435-442.
    4. Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2013. "Not the Opium of the People: Income and Secularization in a Panel of Prussian Counties," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 539-544, May.
    5. Berman, Eli & Laitin, David D., 2008. "Religion, terrorism and public goods: Testing the club model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 1942-1967, October.
    6. Joe Chen & Yun Jeong Choi & Kohta Mori & Yasuyuki Sawada & Saki Sugano, 2012. "Socio‐Economic Studies On Suicide: A Survey," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(2), pages 271-306, April.
    7. Mary C. Daly & Daniel J. Wilson, 2009. "Happiness, Unhappiness, and Suicide: An Empirical Assessment," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 539-549, 04-05.
    8. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Karen E. Norberg, 2001. "Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide," NBER Chapters, in: Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis, pages 219-270, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Luigi Guiso & Paola Sapienza & Luigi Zingales, 2006. "Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 23-48, Spring.
    10. John Helliwell, 2007. "Well-Being and Social Capital: Does Suicide Pose a Puzzle?," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 81(3), pages 455-496, May.
    11. Rosenthal, Robert W., 1993. "Suicide attempts and signalling games," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 25-33, July.
    12. Efraim Benmelech & Claude Berrebi, 2007. "Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 223-238, Summer.
    13. Alan B. Krueger & Jitka Maleckova, 2003. "Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(4), pages 119-144, Fall.
    14. Dave E. Marcotte, 2003. "The Economics of Suicide, Revisited," Southern Economic Journal, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 69(3), pages 628-643, January.
    15. 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.
    16. Hamermesh, Daniel S & Soss, Neal M, 1974. "An Economic Theory of Suicide," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(1), pages 83-98, Jan.-Feb..
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    Cited by:

    1. Heller-Sahlgren, Gabriel, 2018. "Smart but unhappy: Independent-school competition and the wellbeing-efficiency trade-off in education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 66-81.
    2. Sascha O. Becker & Lukas Mergele & Ludger Woessmann, 2020. "The Separation and Reunification of Germany: Rethinking a Natural Experiment Interpretation of the Enduring Effects of Communism," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 34(2), pages 143-171, Spring.
    3. Becker, Sascha O. & Pfaff, Steven & Rubin, Jared, 2016. "Causes and consequences of the Protestant Reformation," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 1-25.
    4. Sascha O. Becker & Jared Rubin & Ludger Woessmann, 2020. "Religion in Economic History: A Survey," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 480, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    5. Ananyev, Maxim & Poyker, Michael, 2021. "Christian missions and anti-gay attitudes in Africa," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 184(C), pages 359-374.
    6. Cornelius Christian & Lukas Hensel & Christopher Roth, 2019. "Income Shocks and Suicides: Causal Evidence From Indonesia," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 101(5), pages 905-920, December.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    religion; suicide; social cohesion;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

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

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