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Dr Horst Feldmann
Dr Horst Feldmann

Press Release - 01 October 2007

Protestant countries have higher employment rates, study shows

Countries where the main religion is Protestant Christianity have higher employment rates than those where other religions are dominant, according to University of Bath research published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology.

These countries, which include the USA, the UK and Nordic countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway, have employment rates that are approximately six percentage points higher than countries where other religions are practiced by the largest proportion of the population.

The study, which is based on data from 80 countries, also showed that female employment rates are approximately 11 percentage points higher in Protestant countries.

Dr Horst Feldmann from the University of Bath (UK) statistically ‘controlled’ for other factors that affect the performance of the labour market, such as labour market regulations, business regulations and the tax burden, thus eliminating their effects.

He says that the most likely reason for the impact of Protestantism on employment is the legacy of the commitment to work cultivated through the early Protestant church.

“Religion does not necessarily have a direct impact upon most people’s behaviour today,” said Dr Feldmann, a lecturer in the University’s Department of Economics & International Development.

“Rather, the impact of religion may be indirect, for example, in helping shape the national culture of a given society.

“In its early days, Protestantism promoted the virtue of hard and diligent work amongst its adherents, who judged one another by conformity to this standard.

“Originally, an intense devotion to one’s work was meant to assure oneself that one was predestined for salvation.

“Although the belief in predestination did not last more than a generation or two after the Reformation, the effect on work ethics continued.

“This was particularly conducive to the rise of modern capitalism. It stimulated entrepreneurial spirits and helped to assimilate workers into the factory system.

“Most protestants today are likely to work not in order to attain certainty of salvation but because their parents taught them the virtue of work.

“The Protestant virtue of hard and diligent work has become part of a national culture of the relevant countries.

“Today these values and norms are transmitted by educational institutions and mass media to all people living in a Protestant country.

“While the majority of individuals may have little or no contact with the church today, the impact of living in a society that was historically shaped by once powerful Protestant institutions persists today.

“This shapes everyone, Protestants as well as others, to fit into a given national culture that includes the value of hard and diligent work.

“Conversely, countries dominated by other religions, such as Catholicism, Islam and Buddhism, are likely to have developed a national culture that does not put a high value on hard and diligent work and often is hostile toward paid employment of women.

“These ideas were first put forward by the sociologist Max Weber a hundred years ago, to explain the role Protestantism played in the rise of modern capitalism.

“The new empirical research findings suggest that there may be more to Weber’s argument today than is commonly realised.”


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