The Godfactor

Religion and Innovation

By Roland Bénabou (, Davide Ticchi ( and Andrea Vindigni (



In earlier work (Bénabou, Ticchi and Vindigni 2013) we uncovered a robust negative association between religiosity and patents per capita, holding across countries as well as US states, with and without controls. In this paper we turn to the individual level, examining the relationship between religiosity and a broad set of pro- or anti-innovation attitudes in all five waves of the World Values Survey (1980 to 2005). We thus relate eleven indicators of individual openness to innovation, broadly defined (e.g., attitudes toward science and technology, new versus old ideas, change, risk taking, personal agency, imagination and independence in children) to five different measures of religiosity, including beliefs and attendance. We control for all standard socio-demographics as well as country, year and denomination fixed effects. Across the fifty-two estimated specifications, greater religiosity is almost uniformly and very significantly associated to less favorable views of innovation.

Review by Stuart Henderson (Queen’s University Belfast)

What is the effect of religion on innovation? A recent working paper by Bénabou, Ticchi and Vingini (2015) (henceforth BTV), and distributed by NEP-HIS on 2015-04-02, suggests that religious differences contribute to significant variation in attitudes towards innovation. In particular, BTV find a consistent and robust negative relationship between various measures of religiosity and attitudes which are considered more favourable to innovation and change.

BTV use individual-level data from all waves of the World Values Survey from 1980 to 2005. This provides a variety of innovation measures which are categorised under the following three headings: “attitudes toward science and technology”, “attitudes toward new ideas, change, and risk taking” and “child qualities”. On the right-hand-side of the regression specification, religiosity is measured using the following alternatives: “identifying as a religious person, belief in God, importance of religion and importance of God in your life, and finally church attendance”. In addition, further socio-demographic controls are included.


BTV builds especially on Bénabou, Ticchi and Vingini (2013), who similarly find a negative relationship between religiosity and patents per capita across countries and US states. However, their more recent work benefits from a wider spectrum of innovation indicators, as well as the use individual-level data which helps to ameliorate concerns such as the ecological fallacy problem. More generally, their work also adds to a growing economics of religion literature, which has increasingly developed a more nuanced understanding of the causal mechanism associating religion with economic outcomes.

As BVT posit, their work fills a neglected niche which should provide greater clarity on how religiousness (and potentially secularisation) can drive innovation, and thereby long-run growth. Related literature such as Guiso et al. (2003) has emphasised that religious beliefs have a positive association with economic attitudes and growth respectively. However, Barro and McCleary (2003) find that this is tempered by the extent of religious participation, in what can be seen as a believing-belonging trade-off. Similarly, recent work by Campante and Yanagizawa-Drott (2015), and focusing on Ramadan, demonstrates how religious participation enhances the well-being of participants, but negatively affects economic outcomes. As such, while BVT advocate a strong relationship between religion and innovation, there is potentially room for a more refined consideration of religiosity differences especially between those of beliefs and participation. (This seems to be evidenced in that the church attendance religiosity measure is generally weakest across the specifications used by BVT.)


There are a number of further considerations and extensions which may be beneficial for BVT in future work. Take for example when BVT focus on “attitudes toward science and technology”. Here the statistical significance and magnitude of the coefficients fall as we go down the list of statements analysed:

  • “We depend too much on science and not enough on faith”
  • “Science and technology make our way of life change too fast”
  • “The world is better off because of science and technology”

Intuitively, this makes sense. The first and second statements are made in a negative manner, as opposed to the latter which is positive. Furthermore, the first more clearly juxtaposes religion and innovation. Hence, it is possible that the framing of the statements is driving the perceived negative association. Similarly, for the “child qualities” variables, respondents select five they consider “especially important”. The ranking nature of this question, means that if religious faith (which appears as one of the options) is selected, then the values perceived as innovative will on average move down the list, even if people perceive them as important (since only five can be selected). It also seems unusual that religious faith would feature as an alternative choice given the position of religiosity on the other side of the regression specification.

One solution to this potential bias is to examine differences between and within denominations (as BVT already allude to). Indeed, previous work such as Arruñada (2010) has demonstrated how denominational groupings (Catholics vs. Protestant) differ in their economic attitudes. Moreover, by excluding those who are not religious, and then focusing on the gradation in religious practice, BVT could more precisely understand how the intensity of religious practice influences innovation attitudes. In addition, by focusing not only on denominational differences, but also on religious intensity, BVT could potentially deal with the issue of nominal religious identity/cultural labelling, something which has received little attention in previous work.


The issue of causality is also important, with recent literature employing a variety of novel approaches to deal with such problems. In particular, instrumental variables have become especially popular, and have helped to alleviate concerns such as reverse causality and endogeneity. More broadly, for BVT there exists an opportunity to address how their attitudinal indicators of innovation are reflected in innovation outcomes. While difficult, this would potentially have much greater policy implications, especially if one believes in the functional nature of religion. (There also exists opportunity to examine how socio-demographic factors such as gender interact with religion and thereby affect innovation.)

In sum, BVT have effectively added a much-needed innovation perspective to the economics of religion literature. These initial results suggest that various forms of religiosity have a negative association with attitudinal measures of innovation at the individual-level, complementing previous work by Bénabou, Ticchi and Vingini (2013) across countries and US states. Moreover, their rich data set provides much opportunity to more precisely focus on what facets of religion influence innovation, and thereby not only understand how religion affects society across a recent period of economic history, but also better understand the very nature of religion itself.


  • Arruñada, Benito, “Protestants and Catholics: Similar Work Ethic, Different Social Ethic,” Economic Journal, 120 (2010), 890–918.
  • Barro, Robert J., and Rachel M. McCleary, “Religion and Economic Growth Across Countries,” American Sociological Review, 68 (2003), 760–781.
  • Bénabou, Roland, Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni, “Forbidden Fruits: The Political Economy of Science, Religion and Growth,” Princeton University, Research Paper No. 065‑2014, Dietrich Economic Theory Center, (2013).
  • Bénabou, Roland, Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni, “Religion and Innovation,” NBER Working Paper No. 21052, (2015).
  • Campante, Filipe, and David Yanagizawa-Drott, “Does Religion Affect Economic Growth and Happiness? Evidence from Ramadan,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130 (2015), forthcoming.
  • Guiso, Luigo, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales, “People’s Opium? Religion and Economic Attitudes,” Journal of Monetary Economics, 50 (2003), 225–282.

One thought on “The Godfactor

  1. Pingback: Innovation and Religion | Finance Solutions

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