DP18008 Dealing With Adversity: Religiosity or Science? Evidence From the Great Influenza Pandemic
How do societies respond to adversity? After a negative shock, separate strands of research document either an increase in religiosity or a boost in innovation efforts. In this paper, we show that both reactions can occur at the same time, driven by different individuals within society. The setting of our study is the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic in the United States. To measure religiosity, we construct a novel indicator based on naming patterns of newborns. We measure innovation through the universe of granted patents. Exploiting plausibly exogenous county-level variation in exposure to the pandemic, we provide evidence that more-affected counties become both more religious and more innovative. Looking within counties, we uncover heterogeneous responses: individuals from more religious backgrounds further embrace religion, while those from less religious backgrounds become more likely to choose a scientific occupation. Facing adversity widens the distance in religiosity between science-oriented individuals and the rest of the population, and it increases the polarization of religious beliefs.