Does it Pay to Pray? Evaluating the Economic Return to Religious Ritual
38 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2003
Date Written: August 2003
Time-consuming and costly religious rituals pose a puzzle for economists committed to the idea of rational economic behavior. We propose that religious rituals promote in-group trust and cooperation that help to overcome collective-action problems. We test this hypothesis on communal societies for whom mutual cooperation is a matter of survival. We design field experiments to measure the in-group cooperative behavior of members of 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. We use our results to understand differences in the returns to religious observance in capitalist and developing economies.
Keywords: economics of religion, experimental economics, religious ritual, cooperation, signaling, field experiment, kibbutz
JEL Classification: C72, C93, P32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation