Skip to main content


Log in

Religion in macroeconomics: a quantitative analysis of Weber’s thesis

  • Symposium
  • Published:
Economic Theory Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Max Weber in 1905 claimed that Protestantism, and more specifically Calvinism, facilitated the rise of capitalism. This paper assesses the quantitative plausibility of his hypothesis by introducing religious beliefs into a dynamic general equilibrium model of development and growth. Through counterfactual exercises, the paper investigates whether differences between Catholics and Protestants most closely identified with the Protestant Work Ethic can account for long delays in the start of Industrialization observed between various countries and regions. The main finding is that these differences may possibly explain why Northern Europe developed before Southern Europe, but they cannot explain why Europe developed before Latin America.

Many of the tenets of Calvinism have had profound social implications–in particular, that thrift, industry, and hard work are forms of moral virtue and that business success is an evidence of God’s grace. Because these views helped to create a climate favorable to commerce, Calvinism played a role in the overthrow of feudalism and the establishment of capitalism.

Microsoft Encarta

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Arrunada, B.: The economic effects of christian moralities. Upublished Manuscript. Universitat Pompeu Fabra (2004)

  • Barro, R.J., McCleary, R.M.: Religion and economic growth. Unpublished Manuscript, Harvard University (2003)

  • Blum U., Dudley L. (2001) Religion and economic growth: was weber right?. J Evalut Econ 11(2):207–230

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Azzi, C., Ehrenber, R.G.: Household allocation of time and church attendance. J Polit Econ 83(1), (1975)

  • Chiswick B.R. (1983) The earnings and human capital of american jews. J Human Resourc 18(3):313–336

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clark G.: Microbes and markets: was the black death an economic revolution. Unpublished Manuscript, University of California, Davis (1998)

  • Clark G., Van Der Werf Y. (1998) Work in progress? the industrious revolution. J Econ History 58(3):830–843

    Google Scholar 

  • Ellison C.G. (1991) Religious involvement and subjective well-being. J Health Soc Behav 32(1):80–99

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feinstein, C.H.: Capital formation in great britain. In: Mathias, P., Postan, M.M. (eds.) The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, vol. 7 Part I. Cambridge University Press, London (1978)

  • Freeman, R.B.: Who escapes? the relation of churchgoing and other background factors to the socioeconomic performance of black male youths from inner-city tracts. In: Richard, B.F., Harry, J.H. (eds.) The Black Youth Employment Crisis (1986)

  • Fullerton, K.: Calvinism and capitalism: an explanation of the weber thesis. In: Green, R.W. (ed.) Protestantism, Capitalism, and Social Science: The Weber Thesis Controversy. D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, MA (1973)

  • Gollin, D.: Getting income share right. J Polit Econ 110(2), (2002)

  • Gorski, P.: The protestant reformation and economic hegemony: religion and the rise of england and holland. University of Wisconsin Working Paper (2004)

  • Guiso L., Sapienza P., Zingales L. (2003) People’s opium? religion and economic attitudes. J Monetary Econ 50, 225–282

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hall R.E., Jones C.I. (1999) Why do some countries produce so much more output per worker than others? Quart. J Econ 114, 83–116

    Google Scholar 

  • Hansen G., Prescott E. (2002) Malthus to solow. Am Econ Rev 92(4):1205–1217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Iannaccone L.R. (1998) Introduction to the economics of religion. J Econ Literat 36(3):1465–1496

    Google Scholar 

  • Ekelund Jr. R.B., Hébert R.F., Tollison R.D. (2002) An economic analysis of the protestant reformation. J Polit Econ 110(3):646–671

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Klenow, P.J., Rodriguez-Clare, A.: The neoclassical revival in growth economics: has it gone too far? In: Bernanke, B., Rotemberg, J.: (eds.) NBER Macroeconomics Annual. MIT press, Cambridge (1997)

  • Landes, D.: The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor. Norton (1998)

  • Lunt, W.E.: Papal Revenues in the Middle Ages. Columbia University Press, New York (1934) Reprint: Octagon Books, New York (1965)

  • Maddison, A.: Dynamic Forces in Capitalist Development: A Long-Run Comparative View. Oxfore University Press, New York (1995)

  • Ngai, L.R.: Barriers and the transition to modern growth. Mimeo, University of Pennsylvania (1999)

  • Parente S., Prescott E. (2000) Barriers to Riches. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  • Parente S., Prescott E.(2005) A unified theory of the evolution of international income levels. In: Aghion P., Durlauf S., (eds). Handbook of Development Economics. Amsterdam, North Holland, pp. 1371–1416

    Google Scholar 

  • Shleifer A., La Porta R., Lopez-de-Silanes F., Vishny R.W. (1997) Trust in large organizations. Am Econ Rev 87(2):333–338

    Google Scholar 

  • Samuelsson K. (1993) Religion and Economic Action: The Protestant Ethic, the Rise of Capitalism, and the Abuses of Scholarship. University of Toronto Press, Toronto

    Google Scholar 

  • Stulz, R., Williamson, R.: Culture, openness and finance. NBER Working Paper 8222 (2001)

  • Tawney R.H. (1926) Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. Harper and Row, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Voth H.-J. (1998) Time and work in eighteenth-century london. J Econ History 58(1):29–58

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weber M. (1958) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (translated by Talcott Parsons). Free Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rui Zhao.

Additional information

We thank Doug Gollin, Larry Neal, Richard Layton, as well as seminar participants at University of Wisconsin Madison and Vanderbilt University for their comments.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cavalcanti, T.V., Parente, S.L. & Zhao, R. Religion in macroeconomics: a quantitative analysis of Weber’s thesis. Economic Theory 32, 105–123 (2007).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


JEL Classification Numbers