Does it Pay to Pray? Evaluating the Economic Return to Religious Ritual

38 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2003

See all articles by Bradley J. Ruffle

Bradley J. Ruffle

McMaster University

Richard H. Sosis

University of Connecticut - Department of Anthropology

Date Written: August 2003

Abstract

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

Ruffle, Bradley J. and Sosis, Richard H., Does it Pay to Pray? Evaluating the Economic Return to Religious Ritual (August 2003). Harvard NOM Working Paper No. 03-50. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=441285 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.441285

Bradley J. Ruffle (Contact Author)

McMaster University ( email )

1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4M4
Canada

HOME PAGE: http://https://socialsciences.mcmaster.ca/people/ruffle-bradley

Richard H. Sosis

University of Connecticut - Department of Anthropology ( email )

354 Mansfield Road
Storrs, CT 06269-1176
United States
860-486-4264 (Phone)
860-486-1719 (Fax)

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