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Religion and Economic Growth

  • Robert J. Barro
  • Rachel McCleary

Empirical research on the determinants of economic growth has typically neglected the influence of religion. To fill this gap, we use international survey data on religiosity for a broad panel of countries to investigate the effects of church attendance and religious beliefs on economic growth. To isolate the direction of causation from religiosity to economic performance, we use instrumental variables suggested by our analysis of systems in which church attendance and beliefs are the dependent variables. The instruments are dummy variables for the presence of state religion and for regulation of the religion market, an indicator of religious pluralism, and the composition of religions. We find that economic growth responds positively to the extent of religious beliefs, notably those in hell and heaven, but negatively to church attendance. That is, growth depends on the extent of believing relative to belonging. These results accord with a perspective in which religious beliefs influence individual traits that enhance economic performance. The beliefs are, in turn, the principal output of the religion sector, and church attendance measures the inputs to this sector. Hence, for given beliefs, more church attendance signifies more resources used up by the religion sector.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9682.

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Date of creation: May 2003
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Publication status: published as Barro, Robert and Rachel McCleary. “Religion and Economic Growth." American Sociological Review (October 2003).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9682
Note: EFG
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  1. Robert J. Barro & Jong-Wha Lee, 2000. "International Data on Educational Attainment: Updates and Implications," CID Working Papers 42, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  2. Barro, Robert J, 1991. "Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(2), pages 407-43, May.
  3. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce I. Sacerdote, 2008. "Education and Religion," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(2), pages 188-215.
  4. Barro, Robert J, 2000. " Inequality and Growth in a Panel of Countries," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 5(1), pages 5-32, March.
  5. Azzi, Corry & Ehrenberg, Ronald G, 1975. "Household Allocation of Time and Church Attendance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 83(1), pages 27-56, February.
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