Devotion and Development: Religiosity, Education, and Economic Progress in 19th-Century France

53 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2019 Last revised: 24 Mar 2020

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Date Written: July 2019


This paper uses a historical setting to study when religion can be a barrier to the diffusion of knowledge and economic development, and through which mechanism. I focus on 19th-century Catholicism and analyze a crucial phase of modern economic growth, the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914) in France. In this period, technology became skill-intensive, leading to the introduction of technical education in primary schools. At the same time, the Catholic Church was promoting a particularly antiscientific program and opposed the adoption of a technical curriculum. Using data collected from primary and secondary sources, I exploit preexisting variation in the intensity of Catholicism (i.e., religiosity) among French districts and cantons. I show that, despite a stable spatial distribution of religiosity over time, more religious locations had lower economic development only during the Second Industrial Revolution, but not before. Schooling appears to be the key mechanism: more religious areas saw a slower introduction of the technical curriculum and instead a push for religious education. Religious education, in turn, was negatively associated with industrial development about 10 to15 years later, when school-aged children entered the labor market, and this negative relationship was more pronounced in skill-intensive industrial sectors.

Keywords: Human Capital, Industrialization, Religiosity

JEL Classification: J24, N13, Z12

Suggested Citation

Squicciarini, Mara, Devotion and Development: Religiosity, Education, and Economic Progress in 19th-Century France (July 2019). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP13877. Available at SSRN:

Mara Squicciarini (Contact Author)

Bocconi University ( email )

Via Sarfatti, 25
Milan, MI 20136

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