Resilience of Faith: Post-Covid Religious Trends and the Effect of Ecclesiastical Policy in the United States

69 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2024 Last revised: 11 Apr 2024

See all articles by Angela Cools

Angela Cools

Davidson College

Carlos Esparza

Saint Louis University - Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business

Jiwon Park

Korea Institute for International Economic Policy

Date Written: February 29, 2024

Abstract

Utilizing mobility data from 15 million smartphone users, we examine the pandemic’s impact on in-person religious attendance in the US. Attendance declined sharply in March 2020 and recovered slowly thereafter. Notably, religious attendance rebounded more gradually than other activities like restaurant visits. There were also variations across religious groups, with Catholics returning at a slower pace than Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. By 2022, Protestants and Catholics reached around 85-90 percent of their 2019 attendance; other groups such as Latter-day Saints, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus had fully returned to pre-pandemic levels. We then introduce a novel approach to examine the impact of religious policies on behavior, leveraging variations in the timing of dispensation rescissions by US Catholic bishops. Using a difference-in-differences event study model, we find a short-term 2-4 percentage point increase in Catholic weekend church attendance following the lifting of dispensations, compared to the 2019 baseline. However, this effect fades over time and is smaller than the attendance surge seen after reopening churches post-lockdowns. These results suggest that religious policies impact behavior, though their effects may be transient.

Keywords: Covid-19, Religion, Geolocation Data, Persuasion

JEL Classification: Z12,D83,D91,L31

Suggested Citation

Cools, Angela and Esparza, Carlos and Park, Jiwon, Resilience of Faith: Post-Covid Religious Trends and the Effect of Ecclesiastical Policy in the United States (February 29, 2024). Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research Working Paper No. 24-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4748765 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4748765

Angela Cools

Davidson College ( email )

United States

Carlos Esparza (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University - Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business ( email )

3674 Lindell Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63108-3397
United States

Jiwon Park

Korea Institute for International Economic Policy ( email )

[30147] Building C, Sejong National Research Compl
Seoul, 370
Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

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