Category Archives: Inequality

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.

An International Comparison of #Inherited #Wealth (#OldEurope vs the #USA)

Inherited Wealth over the Path of Development: Sweden, 1810–2010

by Henry Ohlsson (, Jesper Roine ( and Daniel Waldenström (

Abstract: Inherited wealth has attracted much attention recently, much due to the research by Thomas Piketty (Piketty, 2011; 2014). The discussion has mainly revolved around a long-run contrast between Europe and the U.S., even though data on explicit historical inheritance flows are only really available for France and to some extent for the U.K. We study the long-run evolution of inherited wealth in Sweden over the past two hundred years. The trends in Sweden are similar to those in France and the U.K: beginning at a high level in the nineteenth century, falling sharply in the interwar era and staying low thereafter, but tending to increase in recent years. The levels, however, differ greatly. The Swedish flows were only half of those in France and the U.K. before 1900 and also much lower after 1980. The main reason for the low levels in the nineteenth century is that the capital-income ratio is much lower than in “Old Europe”. In fact, the Swedish capital-income ratio was similar to that in the U.S., but the savings and growth rates were much lower in Sweden than in the U.S. Rapid income growth following industrialization and increasing savings rates were also important factors behind the development of the capital-income ratio and the inheritance flow during the twentieth century. The recent differences in inheritance flows have several potential explanations related to the Swedish welfare state and pension system. Sweden was “un-European” during the nineteenth century because the country was so poor, Sweden is “un-European” today because so much wealth formation has taken place within the welfare state and the occupational pension systems.


Review by Guido Alfani (Bocconi University, Milan)


The paper by Ohlsson, Roine and Waldenström was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2014-08-25. It provides annual estimates of inheritance flows and of the share of inherited wealth over total wealth for Sweden covering fully two centuries, from 1810 to 2010. In this period, Sweden changed deeply: originally a relatively poor and mostly agrarian country, by the 1970s it was one of the wealthiest areas of the world. It also became known for its particularly extensive welfare state.


Building upon earlier research conducted by Roine and Waldenström on wealth concentration and on the wealth-income ratio in Sweden, the paper points out a striking difference between such country and other European areas: while in nineteenth-century France and U.K. the wealth-income ratio was in the 600-700 percent range, in Sweden it stayed within the 300-500 percent range until the early twentieth century. These values are similar to those characterizing the U.S., and the authors argue that they go hand in hand with the limited importance of inheritance flows in nineteenth century Sweden and the U.S. compared to France and the U.K. In both Sweden and the U.S., limited historical accumulation of wealth explains initial low wealth-income ratios.

However, the similarities stop here as the authors describe the first as a poor country characterized by sustained out-migration, and the second as a “land of opportunity”. By 1950, in all the four countries wealth-income ratios had converged to low levels (generally speaking, in the 200-400 percent range, with Sweden even falling below 200 in the 1970s). In recent decades, all four countries experienced a tendency to the increase in the wealth-income ratio. In Sweden, however, the increase has been smaller and what is more, it has resulted into an only minimal increase in inheritance flows.


The core of the paper consists in an attempt to reconstruct the long-term evolution of inherited wealth (b), which is shown to have been around 11 percent of the national income throughout the nineteenth century (half the figure for France and the U.K.), later dropping to just 5 percent around 1970. Following Piketty’s approach, the authors decompose the inheritance flow into its determinants which comprise, apart from the wealth-income ratio (β), the ratio of the average wealth at death to the average wealth of the living (μ) and the mortality rate (m). This can be described with a simple formula:

b= β·μ·m

The reason why we are interested in the share of inherited wealth is that, according to what Piketty (2014) suggests, if the share of inherited wealth is too high then it may result incompatible with the principles of meritocracy and social justice which characterize modern democracies. The authors find that in Sweden, in the long run the wealth-income ratio was the main driver of changes in the share of inherited wealth (in its turn, the wealth-income ratio was influenced by changes in private savings and by fluctuations in the growth rate). However in recent decades, an increase in the wealth-income ratio has only partially translated into an increase in the share of inherited wealth, essentially due to a decline in the ratio of the average wealth at death to the average wealth of the living. The authors provide two possible explanations for this: the fact that new wealth was accumulated among the relatively young, or the retirement savings pattern which, in comparison to France and the U.K., would lead the Swedish to be keener on decumulating private wealth.


Ohlsson, Roine and Waldenström provide a novel perspective on an old story – how Sweden became an exceptionally “egalitarian” Western society – by making excellent use of the analytical tools produced by the recent wave of research on long-term changes in inequality. They provide many interesting and useful insights into two centuries of Swedish history, although sometimes more detail would be useful. For example the statement, that maybe the recent increases in the wealth-income ratio translated only partially into an increase in the share of inherited wealth because new wealth was accumulated mainly by the relatively young, would probably require more supporting evidence.

Particularly interesting is the analysis of the role played by the public in transferring wealth inter-generationally, by means of an exceptionally generous welfare state which basically replaces part of the private inheritance (and influences the pattern of private savings). Perhaps this aspect would have been worthy of further discussion, clarifying for the international reader how such welfare state system came into being, but also pointing out at possible cultural differences between the Swedish and others which might explain a preference for both a more developed welfare state, and lesser wealth (and income) inequality in general. Instead, Ohlsson and colleagues simply suggest that Sweden was «un-European» essentially because «old wealth was not as important in Sweden as it was in France and the U.K. in the 1800s», this in turn being due to the fact that «Swedes were so poor that they simply needed to eat almost all their income in the pre-1900 era» (pp. 21-22). But, looked at from the view point of continental Europe, Sweden has many other peculiarities which might be relevant in explaining the dynamics that the authors so convincingly reconstruct. This being said, the paper is clearly an important contribution to current debates on long-term changes in inheritance and inequality, pointing out many aspects which would well be worthy of more international research.

References and Suggested Further Reading

Alafani, G. (2014) “Economic Inequality in Northwestern Italy: A Long-Term View (Fourteenth to Eighteenth centuries)”, Dondena Working Paper, n. 61, March 2014.

Atkinson, A.B. (2012) “Wealth and Inheritance in Britain from 1896 to the Present”, Working Paper, Oxford University.

Lindert, P.H. (1991) “Toward a Comparative History of Income and Wealth Inequality”, in Y.S. Brenner, H. Kaelble, M. Thomas (eds.), Income Distribution in Historical Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 212-231.

Piketty, T. (2014) Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Piketty, T., G. Postel-Vinay, and J-L Rosenthal (2006) “Wealth Concentration in a Developing Economy: Paris and France, 1807-1994”, American Economic Review, 96(1): 236-256.

Piketty, T. and Zucman, G. (forthcoming 2014), “Capital is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700-2010”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 129(3).

Roine, J. and D. Waldenström (2009), “Wealth Concentration over the Path of Development: Sweden, 1873-2006”, Scandinavian Journal of Economics , 111(1): 151-187.