DP16938 In the Name of God! Religiosity and the Transition to Modern Growth

Author(s): Lars Harhoff Andersen, Jeanet Bentzen
Publication Date: January 2022
Keyword(s): Economic Growth, Human Capital, Knowledge, progress, religion, Religiosity, Science
JEL(s): A13, E02, I25, O3, O47, Z12
Programme Areas: Development Economics, Economic History, Macroeconomics and Growth, Political Economy
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16938

We test the impact of religiosity on the transition to modern growth. In lack of surveys, we develop a novel measure of religiosity based on the idea that given names reveal preferences and identities of parents, including their religious identity. For validity, we document that individuals who share first name with a major religious figure engage in more religious behaviors, reflected in their choice of studies and professions, loyalty towards the church, and their response to natural disasters. We do so using data for 10,000s of university students in the Holy Roman Empire and 100,000s of authors active during the past 700 years. We proceed to document that individuals with religious first names are less likely to become engineers, doctors, and scientists, or to move on to advanced studies within university. In line with a literature on the crucial role of science and knowledge for the transition to modern growth, we last document that cities across Europe inhabited by more religious individuals grew slower than other cities. To establish causality, we rely on the fact that parental naming practices are independent of choices made by their offspring and we compare very similar individuals (authors or medieval university students), born at the same time in the same area. Our results contribute to a growing literature on societal impacts of religiosity.