Project on Religion and Economic Change
Robert D. Woodberry, P.I.
Center for the Scientific Study of Religion,
Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
The primary goal of this project is to evaluate religions influence on the economy.
We will pay particular attention to carefully measuring different types of religious
groups, institutions, beliefs, and behaviors; to connecting our work to historical and
qualitative research; and to differentiating between possible causal mechanisms.
However, religious behavior may have a different economic effect for individuals than it
has for groups.
For example, avoiding corruption may hurt an individual’s economic
prospects but help a society’s economic prospects.
Thus, we propose studying the impact
of religion on the economy at three levels:
the national, the communal, and the
At the national level, we will analyze the impact of 150 years of Protestant
and Catholic missionary activity, education, and medical work on current economic
outcomes of nonwestern countries.
At the community-level, we will analyze religious
and economic change in linked micro-regions on five waves of the Brazilian census.
Finally, at the individual-level and village-level, we will analyze four waves of a
longitudinal survey in Malawi (Sub-Saharan Africa).
Our project will be affiliated with
the Center for the Scientific Study of Religion at the Population Research Center (PRC)
The PRC has pledged office space, computer resources, and support staff
to facilitate the project.
National Impact of Religion on the Economy
We have discovered and compiled an
extraordinary series of data that allow us to test the national-level impact of religion on
all nonwestern societies between 1813 and the present.
These data plot the locations of
virtually all missionary activity, education, and medical work in a series of maps and
statistical tables about every ten years from 1813 through 1968.
collected these to plan future activity.
Because our sources plot the locations of
missionary institutions, we can regroup the data to match any modern national or
provincial borders and thus link them to modern data on religion and economic outcomes
from the 1950s through the present.
This gives an unprecedented 190 years of data in
which to analyze the consequences of religion, education, and medical work on the
economy, and a time series with which we can test both diffusion patterns between
religious traditions and the impact of religious competition on the services religions
These data will allow us to analyze education, medical work, and religious
adherence over a hundred years earlier than other sources and to disentangle the impacts
of a number of related “institutions” – a problem that has stymied previous research on
long-term economic growth rates.
We have also developed multiple ways we can deal
with the endogeneity of our missions, education, and medical variables – one of which