NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

International Determinants of Religiosity

Robert Barro, Rachel M. McCleary

NBER Working Paper No. 10147
Issued in December 2003
NBER Program(s):   EFG

Two important theories of religiosity are the secularization hypothesis and the religion-market model. According to the former theory, economic development reduces religious participation and beliefs. According to the latter theory, religiosity depends on the presence of a state religion, regulation of the religion market, suppression of organized religion under Communism, and the degree of religious pluralism. We assess the theories by using survey information for 61 countries over the last 20 years on church attendance and religious beliefs. In accordance with the secularization view, overall economic development represented by per capita GDP tends to reduce religiosity. Moreover, instrumental estimates suggest that this link reflects causation from economic development to religiosity, rather than the reverse. The presence of an official state religion tends to increase religiosity, probably because of the subsidies that flow to organized religion. However, in accordance with the religion-market model, religiosity falls with government regulation of the religion market, Communist suppression, and a reduction in religious pluralism. Although religiosity declines overall with economic development, the nature of the interaction varies with the dimension of development. For example, religiosity is positively related to education and the presence of children and negatively related to urbanization.

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