October 24, 2003


Does It Pay to Pray?: Evaluating the Economic Return to Religious Ritual (Bradley Ruffle, Harvard Business School, and Richard Sosis, University of Connecticut, Sept 2003)

Time-consuming and costly religious rituals pose a puzzle for economists committed to rational choice theories of human behavior. We propose that religious rituals promote in-group trust and cooperation ... We test this hypothesis ... [by] field experiments ... [on] religious and secular Israeli kibbutzim. Our results show that religious males (the primary practitioners of collective religious ritual in Orthodox Judaism) are more cooperative than religious females, secular males and secular females. Moreover, the frequency with which religious males engage in collective religious rituals predicts well their degree of cooperative behavior.

Never mind the rational choice jargon, the confounding influences not investigated (like the influence of moral norms promulgated by the religion in encouraging cooperation), or the impossibility of deducing directions of causation from observed correlations. The important finding is that practice of a Judeo-Christian religion is correlated with cooperative behavior -- and cooperation among citizens is what a free society needs to flourish, or even survive.

It should be no surprise, then, that it is in nations of Judeo-Christian faith that freedom developed and flourished; and that in countries where such faith has declined, freedom appears to be threatened.

Posted by Paul Jaminet at October 24, 2003 12:47 PM

Fascinating. Other findings:

Members of all groups thought they were slightly more honest than the norm for their own group.

The most cooperative group was observent males in religious kibbutzim, followed by all members of secular kibbutzim (interstingly, gender and observance made no difference to this group, but the ones who ate with the community were slightly more cooperative than those who usually ate alone), followed by non-observent males and all females in religious kibbitzim.

Posted by: Mike Earl at October 24, 2003 1:23 PM

Hmm. And this Judeo-Christian cooperation is in contrast to which non-cooperative societies?

Finding cooperation in a cooperative is, dare I say it, unsurprising.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 24, 2003 3:03 PM

Finding cooperation in a cooperative is, dare I say it, unsurprising.

Maybe more surprising than you think. The question is, how long will the cooperation last? And why?

Posted by: R.W. at October 24, 2003 4:40 PM

Japan is a society long on consensus and cooperation.

And also historically 51 cards shy of a freedom deck.

That's the problem with facts, they keep clouding the issue.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 4:48 PM

Maybe more surprising than you think. The question is, how long will the cooperation last? And why?>

The history of communes in 19th Century America is that the ones founded by secularists, like the writers' Brook Farm or the socialist communes, failed rapidly due to lack of cooperation. Many of the religious ones, however, lasted for at least one and sometimes two generations, before the last generation, having lost the faith of their forefathers, converted them into profit making corporations like Amana.

In New York in the later 19th Century, ambitious farm boys from a host of different Protestant denominations gathered to make their fortunes. Typically, they'd covert to Episcopalianism. This allowed other men whom they'd like to do business with to monitor their characters: Did they show up at church on Sunday morning, or were they hungover? Did they perform efficiently on charitable committees?

The examples of the relationship between religion and Getting Things Done are endless.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at October 24, 2003 6:52 PM


Any time you act to reduce the number of suppliers for a commodity, its price goes up. In a market economy, that doesn't qualify as a good way to get things done.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 8:28 PM

Jeff - I'm afraid I don't understand. What commodity, and what suppliers are being reduced in number?

Posted by: pj at October 24, 2003 8:52 PM

The 19th century communes are a fascinating study, but it is incorrect to say the secular ones failed sooner than the religious ones. Of course, some of the religious ones had some doctrines that, one would think, militated against long-term contentment, like letting the messiah have your wife.

Jim Jones anyone?

The 19th century was also prolific of less-than-cosmic cooperatives, like credit unions. The one I belong to is about 75 years old. We don't share wives, though.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2003 12:10 AM


I probably made a leap too far without explanation. If you restrict your "getting things done" population, whatever that thing might be, then you are also restricting your choices and supply.

For example, race-preferential bidding for contracts. Race has nothing to do with merit--only results do--but restricting the pool thereby arbitrarily excludes supply, and possibly the lowest bidder.

Similarly, using religion as a proxy for merit. In a market economy, that isn't a good idea. Your competitor may very well, and gain the benefits of greater competition.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 25, 2003 8:54 PM

I wasn't advocating using religion as a proxy for merit in evaluating individuals, but suggesting that greater religious faith would yield social benefits.

Posted by: pj at October 26, 2003 8:36 AM


That's as may, or may not, be.

But that is up to individuals, isn't it?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 26, 2003 1:16 PM

That's a common view, Paul, but on the other hand, read the "Potash and Perlmutter" stories that ran in the Saturday Evening Post a hundred years ago.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 26, 2003 3:35 PM