Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Religiosity and the Business Cycle, Again

Ryan Avent and and Ezra Klein both take note of this Lisa Miller article in Newsweek that discusses what appears to be countercyclical  religiosity.  Here, religiosity is measured by church attendance.  If you read the piece you may note that it addition to citing Daniel Hungerman, an economist who is known for his scholarly work on the economics of religion, it also briefly  quotes me.  If you noticed this quote in the article you  probably wondered to yourself "What the heck is Beckworth doing in this piece? Isn't he the Fed-criticizing, nominal GDP-target loving, saving-glut thesis critiquing macroeconomist who blogs from Texas?" Well, yes but it also just so happens that a few years ago I dabbled in the economics of religion where I specifically looked at the relationship between the business cycle and religiosity.  My timing was impeccable given the arrival of the Great Recession and as result my research got some media attention. That is why I got cited in the Newsweek piece. 

In my first foray into this issue I found that religiosity--as measured by weekly attendance and membership growth--was countercyclical especially for folks who hold more absolute beliefs. In my second foray I expanded my study of the business cycle-religiosity link by looking at manifestations of religiosity through both giving of time (e.g. church attendance) and giving of funds (e.g. tithes and offerings) to religious activities.  Here I found that for religious folks giving of time and money act as substitutes in response to economic shocks.  For example, if the economy is booming  and is making  one's time more precious then giving of funds to religious causes increases and giving of time decreases. On the other hand, during a downturn, time becomes less costly and financial giving more costly  so the opposite happens.  

Now the opportunity costs story outlined above is not the only way to interpret these findings. Another reason why church attendance may increase during recessions is that folks are engaged in consumption smoothing as religious communities can act as a form of social insurance. Individuals may turn to churches  for consumption needs such as shelter and groceries as well as intangible consumption needs such as a sense of certainty. Daniel Hungerman in the article mentions another reason may be an increased awareness of community during hard times that pulls people to church. I suspect there is some truth in all of these stories. Here is an earlier post I did on this issue.


  1. Are you going to have another foray and track it throughout the business cycle?

  2. Brian,only to the extent it gets my papers published! Too many other projects going on now.

  3. Here is another view point on setting a positive message of support for economic stability and more: