Sunday, March 02, 2014

Atheism linked to economic innovation, productivity

By Mathew Goldstein

We can reasonably assert that philosophical naturalism has nothing to do with anything beyond the belief that the physical universe obeying natural laws is all that there is.  Nevertheless, beliefs about how our universe functions are unavoidably going to tend to influence individual day to day decisions that could, in turn, have larger implications for society.  The Journal of Institutional Economics recently published a study by two economists, Travis Wiseman of Mississippi State University and Andrew Young of West Virginia University titled Religion: productive or unproductive? that claims to have found evidence for negative correlations between religious belief commitments and some macro economic activity.

The researchers used religion data from a variety of sources: the Pew Form’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey; the Gallup Poll’s State of the States surveys from 2004 and 2008; and the Census Bureau’s Religious Congregation and Membership Study of 2000 and 2010.  Religiosity was determined by four factors: regular attendance at religious services, strong belief in God, regular prayer, and viewing one’s religion as “very important.”  “Productive entrepreneurship” was calculated using a combination of new businesses created, new businesses created with 500 or more employees, per-capita venture capital investments, patents per capita, and the growth rate of self-employment.

They found that the percent of individuals reporting as atheist/agnostic is positively associated with productive entrepreneurship.  Conversely, all of the religious variables they tracked “tend to correlate negatively and significantly” with a state’s productive entrepreneurship score. The percentage of a state’s residents who are self-described Christians in particular “robustly correlated” with a lower score in productive entrepreneurship.

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