Archives for religion



Does Religion Make You Happy? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast


This week’s episode is called “Does Religion Make You Happy?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

We undertook this episode in response to a listener question from Joel Rogers, a tax accountant in Birmingham, Ala. Here’s what he wrote:

Being devout Southern Baptists my parents have steadfastly been giving 10% of their income to the church their whole lives. I recently voiced my opinion that I thought that was too [much to] give, and my parents and I got into an argument.

After a little back-and-forth, my parents conceded tithing at 10% may not be the exact amount ‘God’ expects, but my mother said something that stuck with me. She said the 10% they give to the church makes them happier than anything else they spend money on.

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Old-Fashioned Matchmaking as an Antidote to Modern Dating Dilemmas

We recently put out four Freakonomics Radio episodes that developed an arc of a theme: “Reasons to Not Be Ugly,” “What You Don’t Know About Online Dating,” “Why Marry? (Part 1)” and “Why Marry? (Part 2).” These episodes prompted a lot of interesting listener/reader replies. Here is a particularly interesting one, from a woman we’ll call R.:

I recently listened to your podcast on online dating and found it fascinating — not so much because of the economics of dating, but more how it contrasted and compared with the economics of the dating world I live in: the Orthodox Jewish semi-arranged marriages.

I grew up in upstate New York, in a village that is almost only Haredi Orthodox. The world I live in is sort of like Jane Austen, very marriage-oriented. Every girl (and boy for that matter) wants to get married, and does so in her early twenties. The systems at play to get everyone married off must fascinate an outsider. Out of my class of about sixty, about 95% got married within the first five years out of school. So far, only one girl is divorced. It’s hard to quantify happiness in all these marriages but from what my friends tend to tell me, most seem very happy in their relationships. I know that the Orthodox Union has done research into the area. They collected a lot of data by surveying thousands of Orthodox couples, including Haredim, with in-depth online questionnaires. While I have not examined their data (and what a treasure trove that must be to an economist!) I think that this success in matching quickly, efficiently, and happily is due to changing the incentives you talk about in your podcast. The entire process seems to have been designed to reduce outer beauty from being the main incentive in a marriage market.

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Religion, Labor Supply, and Happiness

SuperFreakonomics looked at research by Douglas Almond and Bhashkar Mazumder on the birth effects of prenatal exposure to Ramadan. A new paper by Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott looks at the economic effects of religious practices, a particularly relevant question this month:

We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of the observance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establish causality, we exploit variation in the length of the fasting period due to the rotating Islamic calendar. We report two key, quantitatively meaningful results: 1) longer Ramadan  fasting has a negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and 2) it increases subjective well-being among Muslims.

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Pontiff-icating on the Free-Market System: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

This week’s episode of Freakonomics Radio takes a look at Pope Francis’s critique of the free-market system in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), his first apostolic exhortation. (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The pontiff’s 224-page document covers a wide range of topics, but a small sub-section discussing “some challenges of today’s world” has captured the most attention. Using fiery language, Pope Francis condemns a global economy that “kills,” promotes inequality, and allows “the powerful [to] feed upon the powerless.” (Rush Limbaugh argued that this sounds like “pure Marxism.”): Read More »



Gay Rights in Russia? Nyet

Gay marriage and gay rights have dominated much of the U.S. news over the past week. In Russia, meanwhile, from the Associated Press:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a measure that stigmatizes gay people and bans giving children any information about homosexuality. …

The ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values over Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church see as corrupting Russian youth and contributing to the protests against Putin’s rule.

Hefty fines can now be imposed on those who provide information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors or hold gay pride rallies.



One University That Isn’t Cutting Costs

A Washington Post profile of Liberty University, founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, says that Liberty has doubled its enrollment in the last six years:

The surging enrollment for a bastion of Christian conservatism in the central Virginia foothills highlights the school as a market leader at the crossroads of religion and higher education. Liberty figured out how to recruit masses of students via the Internet years before elite universities began ballyhooed experiments with free online courses.

Turbocharged growth inevitably raises questions about quality, and Liberty’s academic reputation has not risen as fast as its enrollment. About 47 percent of its first-time, full-time students graduate within six years, federal data show, below the national average of 58 percent. Liberty officials say such statistics reflect an admissions policy geared more toward opportunity than exclusivity.

And Liberty is doing well on the finance front too: “The university ended 2012 with more than $1 billion in net assets for the first time, counting cash, property, investments and other holdings. That is 10 times what the school had in 2006.”

(HT: Marginal Revolution)



A Clarification on the Immaculate Reception (and Conception)

In the “Immaculate Reception” documentary that premiered last night on the NFL Network, I was called upon to discuss the religious provenance of the play’s name. Here’s what I say in the program:

People thought it was about the Virgin Birth. It wasn’t about Jesus. It was about the Immaculate Conception, where Mary is visited by an Angel of God and therefore becomes pregnant without having been touched by sin.

So I started out on the right track, by clarifying that the Immaculate Conception is a different event than the Virgin Birth, that it refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus. But then the explanation gets garbled as I plainly misspoke — said “Mary” instead of “Mary’s mother,” or “Anne.”

I’ve already heard from several viewers, and I apologize for the error and the confusion. I will talk to the producers about perhaps getting it straightened out. I guess that’s why I prefer writing to talking — you can plainly see your errors and fix them before they become real! Read More »



The Demand Curve for Religion

“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”? In many European countries, religion comes at a price: If you want the services of a religious community — for marriages, burial, and other activities — you pay a tax.  (In Germany, for example, there is an 8 percent surcharge on your income-tax bill.) A very nice Finnish study by Teemu Lyytikäinen and Torsten Santavirta, “The Effect of Church Tax on Church Membership” (Journal of Population Economics, forthcoming), uses this institution to examine the demand curve for religion. The price elasticity of demand is fairly small—not more than 0.05—but that is partly because until 2003, Finland made it difficult to opt out of a religious community (and opt out of paying the tax).  Not surprisingly, once the transactions costs of tax avoidance were reduced, the elasticity of demand appears to have risen.