What is the impact of religion on economic growth? The basic Solow growth model tells us that there are three engines to economic growth: capital accumulation, population growth and technological progress. It is quite obvious that religion has an influence on population growth (mostly by favoring it) and technological progress (typically by inhibiting it), but what about capital accumulation? Different religions have different attitudes with respect to afterlife, to property rights and to bequests, so some interesting results could emerge from an empirical study of savings across religious beliefs.
Anja Klaubert uses PSID data to study savings behavior by religious affiliation. Compared to a cross-country study where institutions are endogenous to dominant religions, a study centered in the US should be able to concentrate the impact of religions on individual behavior. It turns out all blends of Christianity pretty much look alike. It should surprise no one that Jews are most likely to save, and they save the most. However, atheists are the least likely to save. Why would that be? As they can less rely on a church in case they fall on hard times, they should be doing more precautionary savings. The lack of belief in afterlife should not be material, as afterlife is immaterial. And it is the religious people believing the world will end soon who should not be saving. To the contrary, the frequency of church attendance seems to be positively associated with the likelihood of saving. All this is a real puzzle to me, and unfortunately the author does not address it. Do you have an idea?