Thursday, October 23, 2008

How religion influences behavior?

In our class, we are using economic concepts to study individuals' religious choices, i.e., how economic incentives influence religious choices. But there's an equally important and interesting opposite direction: how religion influences individuals' economic choices.

Unfortunately, we only have time to focus on the first direction in our class, but you should be aware of the large body of research and thinking on the second direction of influence. For example, you have probably heard of Max Weber's idea that Protestantism helped promote the development of capitalism (see this wikipedia article).

The literature is actually too large to mention it all. But if you are interested in the most recent research on this second direction, then you can skim this short survey paper by Evelyn Lehrer. She writes (p. 9):
Commitment to religion--in its various manifestations, including the strength of religious beliefs and the extent of participation in private and public religious activities--can affect demographic and economic behavior via two major pathways. First, a higher level of religiosity may be expected to accentuate the effects of religious affiliation, e.g., the tendency for conservative Protestant women to display low levels of employment when young children are present in the household should be most pronounced among highly observant conservative Protestant couples. Second, the generally beneficial effects of religiosity on health and well-being can have important implications for economic and demographic outcomes, e.g., children raised with some religious involvement in their lives tend to have better performance in school and to achieve a higher level of educational attainment.

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