Does Wealth Imply Secularization and Longevity?


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    The general pattern in Figure 1 has been taken as evidence for the controversial secularization hypothesis that religiosity wanes with economic development. The hypothesis is often attributed to Weber (1904/1958), although there are other secularization theories that do not imply a negative association between religiosity and development (Gorski 2000). The secularization hypothesis is controversial, in part because there are a number of instances, such as the United States exception, where the hypothesis fails.

  • The author received very helpful comments from Su Hohlfeld, Dan Hungerman, Larry Iannaccone, Leslie John, Darren Sherkat, Bart Trescott, the editor Masao Ogaki, and seminar participants at George Mason University, Southern Illinois University, University of Missouri, the 2005 Meetings of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture in Rochester, and the 2006 Midwest Macroeconomics Conference in Saint Louis.


We develop a simple life cycle model with endogenous longevity where religious firms influence religious beliefs using donations as an input. The model suggests that either wealth and economic development or competition by religious firms can explain cross-country variation in religious beliefs, but to explain cross-country variation in religious beliefs, longevity, and consumption both development and competition are required. Our results depend on the wealth and substitution effects that accompany economic development and religious market competition.