Religiosity: Good for Society, Bad for Innovation?

In a new working paper, Roland Benabou, Davide Ticchi, and Andrea Vindigni  follow up their earlier paper which found “a robust negative association between religiosity and patents per capita.” Their new paper, “Religion and Innovation” (abstract; PDF), they look at religiosity on the individual level, “examining the relationship between religiosity and a broad set of pro- or anti-innovation attitudes.”

What do they find?

Across the fifty-two estimated specifications, greater religiosity is almost uniformly and very significantly associated to less favorable views of innovation.

They are careful to note the broad benefits of religiosity on the social fabric:

Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales (2003), using the World Values Survey (WVS), found more religious persons to be more trusting – of other people, public institutions, and market outcomes– as well as more trustworthy: less willing to break the law, accept a bribe, cheat on taxes, and the like. Theoretical models, similarly, have emphasized how beliefs in divine rewards and punishments (or a Calvinistic desire to self-signal one’s predestined fate) can induce individuals to behave less opportunistically and more cooperatively, which can in turn make such beliefs self-sustaining at the social level.

Religiosity thus seems to be associated to what Guiso et al. describe as certain “societal attitudes… conducive to higher productivity and growth.”

But:

The ultimate driver of long-run growth, on the other hand, is technical progress and more generally the whole spectrum of innovation: from advances in basic science to the diffusion of new technologies (e.g., Mokyr (2004)), economic practices and even social change, such as the inclusion of women in production and idea-creation. It therefore seems equally important to examine the extent to which religious beliefs, values and institutions may be conducive or detrimental to creativity and innovation. Doing so means, in a sense, revisiting with modern methodologies the age-old theme of religion’s often tense relationship with science, free thought and disruptively novel ideas.

And so they revisit this theme, and reach this conclusion:

Using all five waves of the World Values Survey, we examined the relationships between eleven indicators of openness to innovation, broadly defined (e.g., attitudes toward science and technology, new versus old ideas, general change, personal risk taking and agency, imagination and independence in children) and five measures of religiosity, involving both beliefs and attendance. Across the fifty-two regression specifications (with controls for sociodemographics, country and year), greater religiosity was almost uniformly and very significantly associated to less favorable views of innovation. In follow-up work, we plan to examine differences in these attitudes across denominations.

 


sanchit

Can religious synchronicity lead to increased violence to yourself and others? - Yes! So why does an increase in religious diversity lead to harmony?

James

You might want to re-think the title. I'm having trouble seeing, from the bits you've quoted, any sign that religiousity is good for society.

Stephen J. Dubner

re-read the second blockquote:

Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales (2003), using the World Values Survey (WVS), found more religious persons to be more trusting – of other people, public institutions, and market outcomes– as well as more trustworthy: less willing to break the law, accept a bribe, cheat on taxes, and the like. Theoretical models, similarly, have emphasized how beliefs in divine rewards and punishments (or a Calvinistic desire to self-signal one’s predestined fate) can induce individuals to behave less opportunistically and more cooperatively, which can in turn make such beliefs self-sustaining at the social level.

Religiosity thus seems to be associated to what Guiso et al. describe as certain “societal attitudes… conducive to higher productivity and growth.”

Chris

I believe that James was referencing the belief that the negative associations of religiosity outweigh the positives. Though this was not explicitly mentioned in that quote, this is certainly a contested point (and one with which I am inclined to agree). In the interest of disclosure, I may be unfairly biased against organized religion; my family and I have suffered greatly at the hands of the Catholic Church and Christian Fundamentalism in general.

Rob

Might we get the best of both in a society where everyone paid lip-service to the local mores but lived their private lives as they saw fit? Does that sound like Mad Men to anyone else? No wonder the late 50s was a golden age.

Erin

They definitely didn't study me. Maybe I'm an outlier (unintentional book reference) but I'm not religious at all. I'm very much a rule follower and believe in what's collaboration. And one of my defining characteristics (according to others) is that I'm trustworthy. The more religious/lack of innovation correlation is easier for me to see.

blagos

They didn't survey me either. I am religious and have 8 patents.

mark Nilsson

i remember reading something about the more religious you are, the lesser iq you have. Generally. Blind trust in a system surely is a requirement for religious people. Maybe the conclusion is a bit off here? :)

Joseph Hertzlinger

[CITATION NEEDED]

RandomJokester

Agreed with Joseph. As an evangelical with advanced technical degrees and a top 2% IQ, I'd love to see a citation from Mark.

Daniel

I am a Patent Examiner of many years who sees applications from all over the world. The disparities in the innovation rates of across the world is something I think a lot about, because it could do the world a lot of good to reduce the disparity.

It is often said that correlation does not equal causation and that is certainly true here. Richer countries can afford to be more inventive, and as a separate phenomenon richer countries are often less religious.

There are exceptions. Mid-twentieth century America and Victorian England both experienced huge technological spurts at a time when each country was very religious. China is currently seeing a sharp spike in both patents and religiosity. South Korea is both much more innovative and religious than the North, to say the least. But again, these are exceptions. The Islamic world, Latin America and Africa, all very religious, all have very little patent output.

There is certainly an impression that science and religion are exclusive. I fear that in many parts of the world, if people feel that they must choose one or the other, they will tend to choose religion to the exclusion of science. Indeed many parts of the Islamic world, which was once a hotbed of learning, have explicitly rejected scientific learning for their young people as a cultural choice.

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James

You seriously think South Korea is more religious than the North? If enough of the North's population weren't religious enough to keep the rest in line, wouldn't they simply hang their spoiled brat of a God-King from the nearest lamppost?

Daniel

North Korea's ideology explicitly rejects religion. I don't think that believing your leader shot a 38 under par, wrote 1,500 books during college and was talking at eight weeks counts a religion.

Joe J

Many here seem to be missing that there are not even close to the same number of religious and non religious people in the US. Depending on your definition of the two its on the order of 20 to 1.
So no one is saying there are no bad religious people, but you would need 20 bad ones to counter one bad non religious person, which there aren't.
So a lot of this is just showing personal experiences small sample sizes and personal biases.

Daniel

There is at least one religious group known to place high emphasis on learning that has had extraordinary intellectual and cultural output across many centuries. This demonstrates that religion and a life of the mind need not occupy opposite poles.

Scott

"...religion’s often tense relationship with science, free thought and disruptively novel ideas."

That line made me think of the following quote;

"Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men." - Henry Eyring, Mormon Chemist