Religion, Education & Secularization

Sascha Becker and Ludger Woessmann had a great piece in the QJE called “Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History.”  They hypothesized that Protestant societies were richer on average because of the emphasis that Protestantism places on being able to read the Bible. Using county-level data from 19th century Prussia, the authors found that Protestantism was associated with higher average income and education levels.

I just learned that Becker and Woessmann have a new working paper (co-authored with Markus Nagler) called “Education Promoted Secularization.” It looks like it’s heading to the top of my pile of “to read” papers after I finish grading.  Here’s the abstract:

Why did substantial parts of Europe abandon the institutionalized churches around 1900? Empirical studies using modern data mostly contradict the traditional view that education was a leading source of the seismic social phenomenon of secularization. We construct a unique panel dataset of advanced-school enrollment and Protestant church attendance in German cities between 1890 and 1930. Our cross-sectional estimates replicate a positive association. By contrast, in panel models where fixed effects account for time-invariant unobserved heterogeneity, education – but not income or urbanization – is negatively related to church attendance. In panel models with lagged explanatory variables, educational expansion precedes reduced church attendance.


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