DP16241 Devotion or Deprivation: Did Catholicism Retard French Development?
Squicciarini (AER, 2020) finds that the parts of France with the most refractory clergy during the Revolution had the lowest industrial employment in 1901, and concludes that Catholicism retarded development. However, because the richest regions were the ones that industrialized, whereas the poorest ones were the most devout, the relationship may be confounded by living standards. If we add a range of simple controls for living standards the claimed result immediately disappears, as it does if alternative measures of religiosity are employed. Regarding education, I find that Catholic schools were established in areas that historically had the fewest public schools and the lowest enrolment of girls relative to boys. Instead of simply indoctrinating children, religious orders appear to have provided a basic education in impoverished places where it was otherwise unavailable, for girls especially.