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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. 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.
    2. 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.
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    7. 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.
    8. 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..
    9. Laurence R. Iannaccone, 1998. "Introduction to the Economics of Religion," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1465-1495, September.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. 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.
    14. 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.
    15. 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.
    16. Rosenthal, Robert W., 1993. "Suicide attempts and signalling games," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 25-33, July.
    17. Dave E. Marcotte, 2003. "The Economics of Suicide, Revisited," Southern Economic Journal, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 69(3), pages 628-643, January.
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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. Laliotis, Ioannis & Minos, Dimitrios, 2022. "Religion, social interactions, and COVID-19 incidence in Western Germany," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 141(C).
    4. 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.
    5. Arold, W. Benjamin & Woessmann, Ludger & Zierow, Larissa, 2022. "Can Schools Change Religious Attitudes? Evidence from German State Reforms of Compulsory Religious Education," IZA Discussion Papers 14989, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Becker, Sascha O. & Rubin, Jared & Woessmann, Ludger, 2020. "Religion in Economic History : A Survey," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1273, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    7. 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.
    8. D'Este, Rocco, 2022. "Scientific Advancements in Illegal Drugs Production and Institutional Responses: New Psychoactive Substances, Self-Harm, and Violence inside Prisons," IZA Discussion Papers 15248, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    9. Bahal, G. & Iyer, S. & Shastry, K. & Shrivastava, A., 2023. "Religion, Covid-19 and Mental Health," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 2302, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    10. 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.
    11. Ruiz Sánchez, Gerardo, 2021. "Monthly suicide rates during the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from Japan," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 207(C).
    12. 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.
    13. Marta Golin, 2022. "The effect of broadband Internet on the gender gap in mental health: Evidence from Germany," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 31(S2), pages 6-21, October.

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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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