Does Ramadan make you happy? Harm output growth?

by on December 17, 2013 at 8:03 am in Data Source, Food and Drink, Philosophy, Religion | Permalink

Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott have a new paper (pdf), here is the abstract:

We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of the observance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establish causality, we exploit variation in the length of the fasting period due to the rotating Islamic calendar. We report two key, quantitatively meaningful results: 1) longer Ramadan  fasting has a negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and 2) it increases subjective well-being among Muslims. We then examine labor market outcomes, and find that these results cannot be primarily explained by a direct reduction in labor productivity due to fasting. Instead, the evidence indicates that Ramadan affects Muslims’ relative preferences regarding work and religiosity, suggesting that the mechanism operates at least partly by changing beliefs and values that influence labor supply and occupational choices beyond the month of Ramadan itself. Together, our results indicate that religious practices can affect labor supply choices in ways that have negative implications for economic performance, but that nevertheless increase subjective well-being among followers.
An earlier discussion on ultra-Orthodox Jews and happiness is here, many excellent comments were offered.

Beliavsky December 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

Research has found that fasting by pregnant women during Ramadan causes
health problems for their children years later:
Fasting During Pregnancy and Children’s
Academic Performance
Douglas Almond
Bhashkar Mazumder
Reyn van Ewijk

We find that children’s Key Stage 1 performance is compromised for Muslims with prenatal
exposure to the Ramadan fast seven years earlier. Previous research has demonstrated that
Ramadan fasting during pregnancy negatively affects the health of offspring at birth and
in adulthood. Children born to mothers pregnant during Ramadan had lower birth weights
than other Muslim children. Later in life, health was also poorer, they more often had
sensory and mental handicaps and they more often reported symptoms that may indicate
coronary heart problems and type 2 diabetes (Almond & Mazumder, 2011; Van Ewijk, 2011).

H.G. December 17, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I guess it is forbidden for pregnant women to fast during Ramadan. It is the case at least in Shia Islam.

US December 17, 2013 at 1:02 pm

“I guess it is forbidden for pregnant women to fast during Ramadan. It is the case at least in Shia Islam.”

That’s not really going to make a major difference if the largest risk to the fetus is at the point in time where the woman is least likely to be aware that she’s engaging in risky behaviour – which it is. As a recent book I read pointed out, “fetal organogenesis is nearly complete by 7 wk postconception”. Neural tube defects have occured before organogenesis has completed, and there’s likely a link between NTDs and starvation during early.pregnancy, see e.g. this. As a future mother one can do a lot of damage to the fetus before one even realizes one is pregnant.

prior_approval December 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

Amazing – anyone studied the effects of Lent on those Christians willing to fast like Jesus did?

Or is Christianity simply not capable of emulating Jesus and his exercise in fasting? (Yeah, the answer is obvious – much like knowing that more Christians have been killed by other Christians in war than the number of all Muslims killed during the Crusades).

TMC December 17, 2013 at 9:48 am

There are exclusion for pregnancy and illnesses and such.
Add Catholicism to the list of thing you comment on , but know nothing about.

Dan Weber December 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

And the modern Lenten fasting is pretty easy to accomplish. It’s not starving yourself for 40 days.

Thelonious_Nick December 17, 2013 at 11:42 am

Well, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, which would be quite a feat to emulate, and possibly life-threatening.

I suppose you are correct that most Christians are not capable of emulating Jesus and his exercise in fasting, although that’s not really what’s expected during Lent. In Lent, at least in the Catholic and Anglican traditions, followers typically give up something with more symbolic value. Meat, perhaps, or sweets, or something else that person normally likes to consume.

Law Schools Lie December 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm

No one fasts during Lent like Jesus did: 40 days and 40 nights without food. Interestingly, the 40-day fast has a long history in Middle Eastern and South Asian religious practices. Elijah, the Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Hafiz are all said to have done it. Many more have crapped out around the 30-day mark. It’s hard to say how many people have actually accomplished it; someone probably has, but the risk of death is very high.

Enrique December 17, 2013 at 9:56 am

Here we go again … Aren’t self-reported measurements of “subjective well-being” just worthless cheap talk?

Ray Lopez December 17, 2013 at 10:23 am

@Enrique: yes and no. If a person says he’s happy, and another says he’s sad, then happy is better than sad for obvious reasons: the probability that the person saying he’s sad when in fact he’s happy is smaller than the opposite.

I’ve read Nigerians are some of the happiest people on earth, despite their poverty. Here is the Philippines they are also happy, dancing in the streets and in stores; contrast with the dour historically Protestant OECD countries.

Z December 17, 2013 at 11:47 am

I think you get to firmer ground if you can define what it is happy people do. Then define a way to measure that activity. If say live births track with happiness, you measure the birth rate and use it a a proxy for happiness.

The Anti-Gnostic December 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Happily foraging in garbage dumps, happily kidnapping foreign businessmen, happily trying to get the hell out of the Phillippines.

Matt Harmon December 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

“Instead, the evidence indicates that Ramadan affects Muslims’ relative preferences regarding work and religiosity, suggesting that the mechanism operates at least partly by changing beliefs and values that influence labor supply and occupational choices beyond the month of Ramadan itself.”

I read this as, “Ramadan changes the time preferences of believers away from producing things of material value and towards worship practices.” Is this a correct interpretation of the abstract?

Nathan W December 17, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I think it’s more like it leads them to appreciate what they have. Ramadan has a lot to do with understanding and sympathizing with poverty. In the process, upon finding satisfaction, you are probably less willing to sell your entire life away to buy expensive trinkets and focus on things that matter, like community, spirituality, appreciation of the smaller things, etc.

Mark Thorson December 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

If you’ve been thinking about becoming a Muslim, now is a good time. The Hajj currently takes place in winter, which is not a bad season in Saudi Arabia. Because the Hajj is scheduled by the lunar calendar, in about 15 years it will be in the middle of summer, which is a terrible time to be outdoors in Saudi Arabia. Many unnecessary deaths from the heat can be expected.

Ricardo December 17, 2013 at 3:00 pm

We should have a massive NASA program to install reverse-thrusters on the moon so that the lunar and solar cycles will be identical.

Z December 17, 2013 at 11:42 am

I suspect high religiosity is linked to happiness as a general rule. Humans, it seems, are hard wired to believe. The manifestation of belief in the form of religion is tightly bound to tribal/cultural elements. A happy and successful people could very well be expected to exercise their religion more vigrously. Alternatively, high levels of piety could lead to greater success of the group. Take your pick or the third choice which is economic success and religiosity feed off one another. As David Goldman observed, fertility rates track very neatly with church attendance. Happy optimistic people make a lot of babies. As the saying goes, a successful society is one in which old men plant trees in whose shade they will never rest.

revver December 17, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Meanwhile, we’re coming up with creative ways to chop down trees which do not yet exist.

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