Mar 15, 2014

Protestantism and Education

During industrialization, Protestants were more literate than Catholics. This paper [April 2014] investigates whether this fact may be led back to the intrinsic motivation of Protestants to read the bible and to what extent other education motives might have been involved as well. We employ a historical data set from Switzerland which allows us to differentiate between different cognitive skills: reading, numeracy, essay writing, and Swiss history. We develop an estimation strategy to examine whether the impact of religious denomination was particularly large with respect to reading capabilities. We find support for this hypothesis. However, we also find evidence which is consistent with the view that Protestants' education motives went beyond acquiring reading skills. (JEL I20)
The paper (Economic Inquiry), is by Timo Boppart, Josef Falkinger, & Volker Grossmann. A draft (2010) is here.  
From the conclusions:
We have shown that, besides a positive Protestant reading bias, Protestants had developed higher cognitive skills in all education fields at the time of industrialization. This indicates that Protestants must have been more aware than Catholics that educational investment pays off economically, in addition to enabling them to read the bible. (p. 17).
One of the great transformations in several countries in Latin America in the second half of the 20th century is precisely the conversion of a large portion of the population to Protestantism (close or over 50% of the population in some cases). That is bringing substantial behavioural changes, which have large economic consequences. Some mega-churches in the region deliver a message that includes entrepreneurship and self-realisation. That is probably a way in which Protestantism and the Bourgeois Virtues overlap to promote economic prosperity. I believe that sound evidence is missing though. 

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