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Religious Participation and Economic Conservatism


  • We thank William Roberts Clark, Roger Finke, Jonathan Fox, Anthony Gill, Garrett Glasgow, Sona Nadenichek Golder, Ben Ho, James Honaker, Laurence Iannaccone, Christopher Reenock, Kenneth Scheve, Christopher Zorn, members of the Political Institutions Working Group at Florida State University, and five anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. We also thank audiences at the Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University, the 2007 annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the 2008 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, and the 2009 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. The data and all computer code necessary to replicate the results and figures in this analysis can be found at and the American Journal of Political Science Dataverse. STATA 11 was used for all statistical analyses.


Why do some individuals engage in more religious activity than others? And how does this religious activity influence their economic attitudes? We present a formal model in which individuals derive utility from both secular and religious sources. Our model, which incorporates both demand-side and supply-side explanations of religion, is unusual in that it endogenizes both an individual's religious participation and her preferences over economic policy. Using data on over 70 countries from the pooled World Values Survey, we find that religious participation declines with societal development, an individual's ability to produce secular goods, and state regulations on religion, but that it increases with inequality. We also find that religious participation increases economic conservatism among the poor but decreases it among the rich. Our analysis has important insights for the debate about secularization theory and challenges conventional wisdom regarding the relationship between religious participation and economic conservatism.