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Keywords:

  • financial reporting;
  • accrual choices;
  • social norms;
  • disclosure

Abstract:  Religion has been shown to influence economic choices and outcomes in a variety of contexts. Honesty and risk aversion are two social norms forwarded to characterize the religious. Using the level of religious adherence in the county of a US firm's headquarters as a proxy for these religious social norms, we find that higher levels of religious adherence are associated with both a lower likelihood of financial restatement and less risk that financial statements are misrepresented because of overstated (understated) revenue/assets (expenses/liabilities). We also find that accruals of managers in areas of high religious adherence exhibit smaller deviations from expectations, and deviations, when they occur, tend to improve the time series mapping of accruals into cash flows. These results hold overall and separately for both Catholic and Protestant religious adherence. Further analysis reveals that the effects of religious social norms extend beyond accrual choices. We find that firms located in areas of high religious adherence are less likely to engage in tax sheltering, and are more forthcoming with bad news in their voluntary disclosures. Collectively, our results provide new evidence on the role of religion and social norms in corporate financial reporting.