Religion is good for the poor, installment #1437

From Jessica Shiwen Cheng and Fernando Lozano:

What is the role of religious institutions and religious workers in the racial earnings gap in the United States? In this paper we explore the relationship between childhood exposure to religious density, as measured with the number of religious workers at the state level, and the labor market outcomes of the worker thirty years later. We use data that spans over fifty years to identify changes in earnings due to early exposure to religion: our first source of identification uses changes in these two variables within states, and our second source of identification uses states’ differences by following workers who moved to a different state. Our results suggest that living in a state with a an extra clergy member for each 1,000 habitants increases the earnings of black workers by 1.7 to 3.6 percentage points relative to white workers.. In addition we show that this relationship is robust to different measures of exposure to religious density, and that these estimates increase to 7.6 percentage points when the change on religious density is defined exclusively increasing an extra black religious workers for each 1,000 habitants. Finally, we estimate a series of robustness tests that suggest that these results are not due to spatial sorting across states, nor to secular time trends associated with changes in labor market outcomes for black American workers.

You can find a copy of the paper if you dig through this link to the AEA program, look under Jan 03, 2016 12:30 pm, Hilton Union Square, Powell A & B, National Economic Association/American Society of Hispanic Economist.  The title of the paper is”Racial/Ethnic Differences in Self-Identification and Income Inequality,” but do any of you know a better, more direct link?

As I see things, to overgeneralize perhaps rather grossly, Democratic economists are more concerned with social and intellectual status, often in good ways, than are many conservatives.  The former group therefore is led to violate strictures of science through the omission of inconvenient truths, rather than through outright denialism or simply “making things up.”  The benefits of religion, including sometimes extreme religion, are one example of that.  On the Left, redistribution is a popular remedy for poverty, religion much less so.


"Our results suggest that living in a state with a an extra clergy member for each 1,000 habitants increases the earnings of black workers by 1.7 to 3.6 percentage points relative to white workers."

If a hen and a half lays an egg and a half in a day and a half it will take 47 pancakes to shingle a dog house.

I just have an issue with the implication, as worded, of causation.

I haven't seen very many white liberals explicitly advance the hypothesis that black churches don't do anything positive for their congregations. That could be a double standard or it could be that intelligent liberals are at best not sure of the benefits of organized religion on certain socioeconomic indicators among the poor or working class. The paper is certainly plausible but it is pretty difficult to use state-level data and come up with a grand slam in terms of evidence. Are there natural experiments that involve exogenous variation at the family level in terms of childhood exposure to religion?

I'm a Christian and predisposed to believe that their conclusion is true, but I agree that this is pretty weak evidence.

I've heard New Atheist Dan Dennett imply support for this thesis and I bet Sam Harris would agree. They would argue that the social networking that religious institutions foster that increases social capital and earnings. Conservative agnostic Charles Murray made the same point in Coming Apart. It's long been known that church-goers live longer because of this social networking.

Now, the New Atheists, especially Sam Harris, advocate non-religious "churches" to replace the current ones. That ain't happening. Sure, you'll get some meetup groups to play Dungeons and Dragons but nothing close to the scale of even the smaller churches. Church-goers are motivated by a belief in a god that commands weekly attendance under penalty of eternal damnation. My old company struggled to get all its board members to show up quarterly.

Seems like all that stress r.e. internal damnation would make church-goers have shorter life spans.

Also, r.e. board members vs congregation, board members don't have to contribution to the collection plate for their assurance of "everlasting" life.

You have a very warped view of what church-going is like. You should actually try it and not rely on the warped view you have.

You say "warped" a lot because you're an engineer.

It was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Church-goers usually relish the thought of going to church but unlike other meetings of like-minded individuals, they also have a deep sense of duty to attend. Not out of fear but like the obligation one feels to eat with relatives on Thanksgiving.

"It is *right* and *just* our *duty* and our *salvation*..."

God is not an instrument that we use for our own ends, worship is the just and appropriate response to the kind of thing God is in the same way that their might be an appropriate response to seeing the Mona Lisa or an appropriate way to interact with your auto-mechanic.

Total annihilation is a pretty stressful thought as well.

Got any links to Dennet on this? Couldn't find anything by googling for it.

"a belief in a god that commands weekly attendance under penalty of eternal damnation"

That's an absurd characterization.

"Church-goers are motivated by a belief in a god that commands weekly attendance under penalty of eternal damnation."

I'm not aware of any demographic data or theological positions that suggest or claim such a thing. Even strict Catholicism only "requires" adherents attend mass once a year. In Baptist and Presbyterian circles, lack of church attendance has no direct effect on eternal destination. And those are the most conservative Christian groups I can think of. The liberal Christian traditions don't care much at all--if they even believe in eternal damnation any more.

"Strict Catholicism" requires Mass attendance every Sunday and holy day of obligation. It requires receiving Communion only once a year.

As far as I know the Catholic Church is the only major church which formally declares non-attendance at Sunday mass to be a mortal sin.

Marx: 'Religion is opium for the masses'. Possibly this finding is due to a small sample size.

E. Harding with religion and S. Sailor with racial issues, lol. That said, I turn into a crazy person when I don't see good positions on how to increase technology. We have a Great Stagnation due to poor incentives to invent. A study once found a pioneer inventor only captures less than 5% of the true worth to society of a pioneer invention. Goodyear, Whitney, Watts, Farnsworth (TV), Armstrong (radio), Tesla (radio, AC motor) and numerous others all got screwed by the patent system as it exists. This should be a cause that has the common man marching in the streets, demanding better patent laws. If they knew how long term important it was to society (Solow model, inter alia), they would, but sadly, like knowledge of chess, it takes years of deep study to understand the issues, which Average Joe doesn't want to do (or can't comprehend).

From the paper: "These estimates suggest that even though being black and being exposed to clergy as a child
is related with lower income in the future, the interaction between black and clergy partially offsets
the racial earnings gap."

Is the actual takeaway "religion less bad for blacks than whites"?

The inhabitants of Münster in 1534 and ar-Raqqa today would beg to differ.

While I don't know anyone from Al Raqqa most of the Syrian Christians I know are very committed to the concept of religion, especially the ones who have suffered for it.

As to Munster I suppose this is a similar situation, unless of course you are referring to the followers of "King Jan", But that was because they followed the "wrong" religion.

Just like people who study the wrong chemistry book. Of course if they were right and God lthinks violent anabaptists are his elect then we are probably all in trouble.

Are we sure the population in Raqqa is doing worse? They appear to finally be benefitting from the oil industry, formerly controlled by Allowite friends of Asad.

I'm not saying that ISIS is an optimal solution, but rebel groups across Syria did not pop out of nowhere - they were a reaction to a crony socialist state making it economically difficult for people.

I'm an atheist but there's no doubt that Protestantism helped fuel individual liberty and endeavour through the idea of having a personal relationship with God and proving to him your worth through everyday actions. The Dutch and then the English and Americans were successful in good part due to these cultural principles.

In any case, better a personal faith in God that asks nothing of others than a faith in the state that demands the compliance of others.

'The Dutch and then the English and Americans were successful in good part due to these cultural principles.'

The Germans with their Reformator, however, did not turn out so well in that individual liberty and endeavour department. They did manage to keep up in that whole science and technology department, though. Inventing the printing press, probably the greatest single invention fostering individual liberty and endeavour, was certainly a big step forward for man, just not such a big step forward for German speakers until the last couple of generations.

Knowing how the Reformation happened, the countries that became Protestant must have had leaders who already valued individual liberty, right? At least their own liberty from the Vatican. It's not like there were mass popular movements in any of these countries in the 1500s that countermanded what the local prince or margrave believed, or chose to believe.

"Better a personal faith in God that asks nothing of others than a faith in the state that demands the compliance of others."

Chip, that's brilliant! I'm going to use it at every Manhattan cocktail party I attend from now on. Well done.

New York is currently demanding that the homeless comply with police orders that they be housed in shelters lest they freeze to death. The personal God of the Christian libertarian would see them turn in to popsicles first.

In which religion does God ask nothing of others?

Read it again, msgkings. It's the faith that asks nothing of others, not the God.

Religion demands the compliance of others also. The church is nothing more than the state in drag.

That's what the Magisterial Reformers thought. But there were others who didn't.

Some religions do and some religions do not. Don't paint with the bigot brush.

So if you don't show up on Sunday and put a few bucks in the till they come to your house with guns?

Rephrase: There is ALWAYS a state religion. The question is whether the religion is True.

Chip, in the era of the Reformation there were two bodies of law in any one jurisdiction in Europe, the city/state and the ecclesiastical, be it Roman Catholic or Protestant. Individual liberty was at a minimum.

"The Dutch and then the English and Americans were successful in good part due to these cultural principles." You must mean successful in the sense that they were able to subjugate or kill less technologically developed foreigners and take their stuff.

"You must mean successful in the sense that they were able to subjugate or kill less technologically developed foreigners and take their stuff. "
Germany in particular did not industrialize until after their vast empire took hold. This is actually why Otto Von Bismarck, initially tasked with uniting Germany, said the most important thing for spurring German industrialism was creating a vast international empire.

Wait, something seems wrong about this line of reasoning...

Religion is just a way of keeping the poor under control.

Never mind that followers of this line of thinking went on to found atheist regimes that killed tens of millions of innocent poor people: apparently this claim is not discredited!

Their killing was indiscriminate. Property owners under Mao and Lenin, intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution, intellectuals during the Khmer Rouge etc.

Ever hear of Liberation Theology?

Religion works bets hand in hand with the ruling classes.. you keep them stupid, I keep them poor.

The poor are less religious than the rich.

Poorer people are more interested in religion, increasing supply of religious workers at the margin. Then use mean reversion or low base rates to explain the result.

Robert Wright has some interesting ideas (in The Evolution of God) about the spread of religion (especially Christianity) and the promotion of trade and economic development. It's a macro view of the positive effects of religion. My own family presents the micro view: my great grandfather was a minister, he had six children (who survived to adulthood), three graduates of Harvard (an architect, a writer, and a lawyer) and two physicians (including my grandmother), one trained in his specialty at Johns Hopkins and the other (my grandmother) trained in her specialty in London, Berlin, and Germany. I inherited my grandmother's well-worn Bible. As for the influence of religion on African Americans, I suggest it's due in part to the same phenomenon as observed by Mr. Wright: those with similar religious beliefs are more likely to do business with each other, thereby promoting their mutual economic well-being. That certainly was the case in my early childhood with respect to African Americans (when black business and professional people were the leaders of their communities) and it's true today among the white evangelical Christians who dominate my low country community.

London, Berlin, and Vienna. Yes, I know Berlin is in Germany.

I basically agree with you, but ministers are usually smarter, and far more entrepenurial than the average. In addition the good social skills are usually passed on as well.

Whenever I meet someone and find out their family has ministers in it, even in the relatively distant past, I am almost never surprised because they usually exhibit the signs of it, in higher intelligence, ambition, and social skills. Even the underachievers.

In days past (my great grandfather was born well before the Civil War) smart men (almost always men) from "good" families often chose the ministry; biblical study was considered an intellectual pursuit, equivalent to the study of science. Today, unfortunately (unfortunately in my view), religion is considered little more than superstition and the religious closed-minded troglodytes. I enjoy studying the Christian Bible, if for no other reason than the cultural phenomenon; it's undeniable that religion, especially Christianity, has greatly influenced culture. As for descendants of ministers, my cousin, an evangelical Christian not descended from my great grandfather, believes that the generations descended from my great grandfather enjoy the blessings for his work. Maybe. What I do know is that the path taken by my ancestors has been a guide for me in my life.

Religion is not a policy solution.

Why not?

Much of conservative policy suggestions revolve around supporting religion on the margins under just such an intuition (as well as the belief that it's a good thing to do in its own right).

Like Mosques near Ground Zero?

Because supporting religion generally means supporting Your Religion and not that of others. Same problem as with blasphemy laws or hate speech laws. Inevitably they're used as a tool for tyranny by majority or rights granted to certain religions are never extended to newer or more nascent religions.

Getting up, getting dressed, and going to church on Sunday requires a certain discipline, doing extra stuff on other days requires more.

People who go to church and work five work days a week are making themselves presentable and getting up six days a week. This is a bare minimum that at the lowest level of the income distribution is going to make them better workers than the non churchgoers.

Most churchgoers actually trade churchgoing for more immediately enjoyable activities in exchange for karmic rewards. This shows some sort of planning ability.

Incidentally, this is probably why so many are awful tippers on Sundays because they feel they have done their morl job for the day, if they did not think it wasa job they wouldn't be so eager to get their own back.

All this is before adding the intangibles. Almost every form of religion declares things like concientiousness and diligence to be virtues and you at least have people who give lip service to these, and most religions seem to promote reverence which means that religious people will tend to pay more attention to procedures and work place policies and not mock them as much as non church attenders. Following them is another matter. This matters immensely with low level workers especially those who are not very bright and even more with intelligent workers who are badly educated.

As you rightly point out, discipline => churchgoing.

So why does this paper hypothesise that churchgoing => earnings? Surely discipline => earnings.

I think you're the first commenter here to hit on the secret: delayed gratification.

I would call it the most important element of being an adult, or at least the one that, when violated, gets most adults in trouble.

I suspect an institution that reinforces this idea weekly helps people be adults, but I realize I could be saying a "just-so" story here.

I wonder about peer group effects. Contrary to some posters upthread, I'm an atheist but I usually find the religious nicer and more "normal" than atheists. It might help to have higher-quality friends.

But maybe that's just my social circle, and the atheists and agnostics I see are at least somewhat angry and anti-social; whereas in the study the non-churchgoers aren't really atheists, they're just lazy.

IN the Middle ages, church and royalty worked together so that gratification got delayed until the afterlife.

Does not eating the marshmallow as a kid correlate with religiosity?

Maybe. It's notable that the effects of religion are greatest in the group of people that really struggle to not eat the marshmallow.

And this the group most benefitting from reinforcement.

"Getting up, getting dressed, and going to church on Sunday...."

And it's all over before noon so nobody misses the televised NFL game.

More East Coast Bias

"This is a bare minimum that at the lowest level of the income distribution is going to make them better workers than the non churchgoers."

That's what's most important in the Puritan scheme of things. No man can become rich by himself. He needs others to do the work and to purchase the produce. If the others don't show up at the salt mine every morning at 7 and don't cash a paycheck to make their purchases, the Puritan system falters. A Puritan mentality positively describes another individual as a "good worker", not as a funny guy or an interesting one.

"No man can become rich by himself"

Nope he needs lots of suckers to stay poor,

Really, bro?

The connection between "number of religious workers" and earners?
Well, sure, America's rich and you can hold tenuous beliefs like that without harm to your material situation. Unlike living in, say, Rwanda or Syria, where having bad ideas can be lethal.
But I diagnose this as extreme mood affiliation with right-wingers on Cowen's part.

The Left are so foolish to think that giving people money will redistribute money, rather than exhorting them to believe in Mormonism.

What? You mean something that humans have been doing for thousands of years might be rational? Paging Mr. Chesterton.

Screw that. Tear that fence down now. The cows will figure out where to go on their own. Maybe we can put in one of those high tech fences down the road.

Thankfully we have a bunch of semi-informed internet trolls to dissect it and tell us which parts we may safely reject.

Anecdata but I grew up in a deep blue East Coast city. In the only non-neighborhood public high school there was an entrance test but also a mandate that the Freshman class should mirror the demographics of the city as a whole. Don't ask me how that works but the upshot was that Blacks and Hispanics outnumbered Whites and Asians about 3:1.

By the time we graduated, that ratio had reversed. (replacements for dropouts or transfers were by merit only.) I noticed even back then that those minorites that remained were overwhelmingly Pentecostals or Jehovahs Witnesses. My theory as to why is:

1. Hope. The Black kids understood very well that a lot of them were only there because of affirmative action. So when they began struggling they just gave up in defeat instead of e.g. taking advantage of the tutoring programs etc. The religious ones had more self-confidence and optimism for the future.

2. Celibacy. This is a place where even in the early '90s they were giving out condoms in middle school. In my school, even though many of the Christians did eventually fall off the wagon, they did so in junior or senior year. Not one of the girls got pregnant as far as I remember.

3. Hierarchy. Another way Black students reacted to academic pressure was playing the race card or otherwise acting out. The religious ones were more likely to respect authority and discipline.

4. Supernatural beliefs. Unlike most of the commentators I think this is key. This town is gentrifying now which is why I am still here but in those days it was collapsing with all the major industrial employers shutting down, rampant crime and drugs etc. When reality is that shitty, living in unreality is better for you.

The downside is that even the smart minority kids were terribly narrow-minded. For instance they actually took STEM subjects at the same rates as anyone else but only because they saw that as the key to making money and a safe job not because they were interested in all that evolutionist deviltry and such. I doubt if any of them became academics. By contrast my friends and I were more into self-actualization even at that young age. Several have gone on to grad school including one from very humble single-parent origins.

Also I don't think religious workers has much to do with anything. In the Pentecostal churches clergy is anyone "called by the spirit." There is no special training required and as far as I know they all do other jobs to support themselves.

Yes it's well established that religion does help to keep lower classes in their place. That is why throughout history the ruling classes always tried to keep the priests on their side.

Seems like in this case the place religion was keeping the lower classes in was school. And I guess to you commies that's bad?

Religion is merely the delivery vehicle. It's the payload that matters.

Most people are bad at delaying gratification - so bad at it that there is nothing in the natural universe that is strong enough to make them deny the pleasures of feasting, fighting, and fornicating in the present. The only thing frightening enough to make people cooperate with their neighbors and their future selves is the supernatural.

Religion is only beneficial if the payload is beneficial. Some religions instruct their believers to drink the Kool-Aid. Most religions instruct their followers to cooperate, crush their enemies, see them driven before them, and hear the lamentation of their women. This is beneficial only in that it prevents others from doing it to you, but not scalable.

If you are lucky enough to be around people whose religion has a payload involving loving your neighbor and going to work, you are going to have good effects. Most American religions believe in this.

Thus religion is necessary to get people low-conscientiousness/low-iq people to cooperate. What they cooperate on is the question.

Convincing young people to delay gratification is important, should young men stay chaste and cooperate by blowing themselves in a market they will get 72 virgins in the afterlife.

Similarly pitch in with 500 buck tp buy Renflo Dollar a new Gulfstream G650, and Gawd will reward you.. someday.

"there is nothing in the natural universe that is strong enough to make them deny the pleasures of feasting, fighting, and fornicating in the present."

You must have very limited experience. Whatever people do in their early 20s -- and some of the wildest do indeed come from families where they dutifully went to church every Sunday -- most people learn through life experience of all sorts of forces in the natural universe telling them that moderation is best. Being obese, getting STDs, having a string of angry, stalker exes, getting injured or arrested in brawls, simply getting bored of all of the above after repeated incidents, etc. can easily point most people in the direction of more responsible behavior.

Some people are smart and have impulse control, others less so. The ones who aren't so smart and have poor impulse control may well require an intervention from evangelical religion. Others seem to learn quickly enough from the school of hard knocks or from seeing their friends (or even depictions of people in films or novels) schooled in a similar manner.

This is interesting political and intellectual dishonesty from Tyler. The report doesn't show that more religion is good for poor people; simply more clerical density is needed. Therefore the solution, if we follow the logic to its natural conclusion, is to ban Megachurches. Banning churches with congregations greater than 200 will naturally increase the clerical density, which is what is needed to help the poor moreso than redistribution. Right?

“Our results suggest that living in a state with a an extra clergy member for each 1,000 habitants increases the earnings of black workers by 1.7 to 3.6 percentage points relative to white workers.” - See more at:"

They have to work harder to make up for the 10% (before tax mind you) tithe that Renflo Dollar, TD Jakes or Eddie Long demand.

That is a good point about the tithe.

Nietzsche on truth vs usefulness is great on this topic. "It is no more than a moral prejudice that truth is worth more than appearance; it is even the worst-proved assumption that exists."

I'm really surprised nobody brought up Hayek, specifically the Fatal Conceit. Religions often safeguard and make binding rules of conduct developed over centuries, which exist "between instinct and reason," that allow cultures to flourish. What's so complicated about that? Also note that it isn't per se incompatible with most any single claim of a religion (though Hayek clearly does not believe the claims of most religions).

How would religion have sustained beneficial customs? Customs
whose beneficial effects were unperceivable by those practising them
were likely to be preserved long enough to increase their selective
advantage only when supported by some other strong beliefs; and some
powerful supernatural or magic faiths were readily available to perform
this role. As an order of human interaction became more extended, and
still more threatening to instinctual claims, it might for a time become
quite dependent on the continuing influence of some such religious
beliefs - false reasons influencing men to do what was required to
maintain the structure enabling them to nourish their enlarging
But just as the very creation of the extended order was never
intended, similarly there is no reason to suppose that the support
derived from religion usually was deliberately cultivated, or that there
was often anything `conspiratorial' about all this.
Yet perhaps most people can
conceive of abstract tradition only as a personal Will. If so, will they not
be inclined to find this will in `society' in an age in which more overt
supernaturalisms are ruled out as superstitions?
On that question may rest the survival of our civilisation.

This sounds the same as home ownership. If you get the poor to own a home they'll start acting better - like current home owners do. How'd that work out? Causation is backwards.

This comment thread certainly has been a good example of: "Democratic economists are more concerned with social and intellectual status, often in good ways, than are many conservatives. The former group therefore is led to violate strictures of science through the omission of inconvenient truths, rather than through outright denialism or simply “making things up.” The benefits of religion, including sometimes extreme religion, are one example of that. On the Left, redistribution is a popular remedy for poverty, religion much less so."

Well observed --- or was it predicted?

People in church communities tend to look out for each other. Bob with six children lost his job? It is immediately a high priority for a lot of people that he gets a new job. And he can't screw it up because so many people in his social circle went to bat for him. His wife died and he needs help with child care or getting children to community activities? People step in and help out.

Religious communities perform a lot of community/social functions, but the fact that it expands one's social network work can hardly fail to increase economic opportunity, on average.

Also (son of a minister here), in the average week clergy spend relatively little time lecturing people from the pulpit and a very large amount of time helping people with their real life issues. Presumably this is good for keeping families together, maintaining good outlook for work, etc.

If you're going to point out benefits of religious belief, please point out the side effects, which are large and negative.

Or at least acknowledge the questionable ethics of encouraging religious belief. Asking someone to believe what you believe to be a lie because it will benefit them would not pass any ethics board on the planet.

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