Nav: Home

Secular countries can expect future economic growth, confirms new study

July 18, 2018

New research measuring the importance of religion in 109 countries spanning the entire 20th century has reignited an age-old debate around the link between secularisation and economic growth. The study, published in Science Advances, has shown that a decline in religion influences a country's future economic prosperity.

While it is well documented that rich countries tend to be secular whilst poor countries tend to be religious, it is still unclear if secularisation causes wealth or the other way around?

The subject has long been debated by classic scholars of social science including French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who claimed that religion fades away once economic development has satisfied our material needs, whereas German sociologist Max Weber, argued that changes in religion drive economic productivity. The debate continues to this day.

Researchers from the Universities of Bristol (UK) and Tennessee (US) used data from birth cohorts from the World Values Survey to get a measure of the importance of religion spanning the entire 20th century (1900 to 2000).

The findings revealed that secularisation precedes economic development and not the other way around. Although this does not demonstrate a causal pathway, it does rule out the reverse.

Furthermore, the findings show that secularisation only predicts future economic development when it is accompanied by a respect and tolerance for individual rights. Countries where abortion, divorce and homosexuality are tolerated have a greater chance of future economic prosperity.

Damian Ruck, the study's lead researcher in the University of Bristol Medical School (Population Health Sciences), said: "Our findings show that secularisation precedes economic development and not the other way around. However, we suspect the relationship is not directly causal. We noticed that secularisation only leads to economic development when it is accompanied by a greater respect for individual rights.

"Very often secularisation is indeed accompanied by a greater tolerance of homosexuality, abortion, divorce etc. But that isn't to say that religious countries can't become prosperous. Religious institutions need to find their own way of modernising and respecting the rights of individuals."

Alex Bentley from the University of Tennessee, added: "Over the course of the 20th century, changes in importance of religious practices appear to have predicted changes in GDP across the world. This doesn't necessarily mean that secularization caused economic development, since both changes could have been caused by some third factor with different time lags, but at least we can rule out economic growth as the cause of secularization in the past."
-end-
The study was funded by grants from the Wellcome Trust and the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).

Paper:

'Religious change preceded economic change in the 20th century' by Damian Ruck, R. Alexander Bentley and Daniel J. Lawson in Science Advances

University of Bristol

Related Economic Growth Articles:

Most Lithuanians still emigrate for economic reasons
Independent research, initiated and carried out by Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) interdisciplinary migration research cluster shows that introduction of Euro in Lithuania coincides with the fourth wave of emigration.
China's economic growth could help other developing countries
Research published today examines China's recent successful economic growth and how this could be applied to help other developing countries grow their economies.
Discovery of surf breaks creates economic growth
University of Sydney research has revealed high quality surf breaks boost economic growth in nearby areas.
Living standards lag behind economic growth
Even as average incomes rise in developing countries, access to sanitation and clean energy have yet to reach the poorest people, a new study shows.
Trade-offs between economic growth and deforestation
In many developing countries, economic growth and deforestation seem to go hand in hand -- but the links are not well understood.
Mobile money improves economic well-being in Kenya
Access to digital financial services lifted 194,000 Kenyan households out of poverty, a new study estimates, and increased consumption levels, especially among female-headed households.
Human footprint surprisingly outpaced by population and economic growth
The global impact of human activities on the natural environment is extensive, but those impacts are expanding at a slower rate than the rate of economic and population growth.
Researchers identify enzyme link between excessive heart muscle growth, cancer growth
UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiology researchers have identified molecular ties between the growth of cancer cells and heart cells that suggest existing cancer drugs may be able to help those with enlarged heart cells -- a condition that can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
New solution to economic eyesores?
Michigan State University researchers will use nearly $250,000 from the US Department of Commerce to test whether recycling and repurposing building materials is an effective solution to economic blight.
New experiments challenge economic game assumptions
Too much confidence is placed in economic games, according to research by academics at Oxford University.

Related Economic Growth Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#514 Arctic Energy (Rebroadcast)
This week we're looking at how alternative energy works in the arctic. We speak to Louie Azzolini and Linda Todd from the Arctic Energy Alliance, a non-profit helping communities reduce their energy usage and transition to more affordable and sustainable forms of energy. And the lessons they're learning along the way can help those of us further south.