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Individual and Regional Christian Religion and the Consideration of Sustainable Criteria in Consumption and Investment Decisions: An Exploratory Econometric Analysis


This study aims to shed light on the relationship between individual and regional Christian religion (and religiosity) and individual sustainable behaviors in an exploratory manner, with a special focus on sustainable consumption and investment decisions. To this end, we econometrically analyze online representative survey data that contains information on the self-reported importance of the consideration of ecological and social/ethical criteria in the context of a large variety of individual behaviors. The target group are financial decisions makers in German households, i.e., important actors in the largest economy in Europe. Results of the econometric analysis suggest that Christian religion is positively related to a variety of (self-reported) ecological and social/ethical activities. Our findings empirically support explanations postulating a positive relationship between Christian religion and environmental behavior, such as the stewardship hypothesis, rather than opposite theories like White’s (Science 155(3767):1203–1207, 1967) dominion hypothesis. Particularly, we find that both individual and regional measures for Christian religion positively affect various behaviors emphasizing the importance of individual and contextual norms for individual behavior. Hence, we provide empirical evidence for the importance of Christian religion for another country than the USA, which is typically in the focus of similar studies. Our results can be used for targeted information campaigns by politicians to enhance sustainable behaviors or acceptance for related policy measures.

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  1. 1.

    Similar like Renneboog and Spaenjers (2012), we focus on the main Christian religions, namely Catholics and Protestants, as these are the major religious affiliations in Germany.

  2. 2.

    In Genesis 1:28, it is written: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”’.

  3. 3.

    Christian conservatism is not necessarily positively associated with dominion beliefs. For further discussion, see Pepper and Leonard (2016).

  4. 4.

    We use the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ as it was used in the corresponding study.

  5. 5.

    Analogously to footnote 4, we use the same expression as it is used in the study quoted.

  6. 6.

    The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD 2013) and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK 2015) recently published guidelines on SRI for institutional but also private investors. Besides emphasizing ethical and social issues on the basis of Christian values, both churches stress the integrity of creation, and thus the importance of considering ecological criteria in investment decisions. This might highlight the official position of the German Churches regarding the inclusion of sustainability criteria in investment decisions, but that does not necessarily mean that Christian religion positively or negatively affects individual investment decisions in context of SRI in Germany (particularly, as the guidelines of the Central Committee of German Catholics were published after our survey was conducted).

  7. 7.

    Comparing sample statistics with respect to age, gender, and place of religion at the federal state level with figures published by the Federal Statistical Office in Germany shows that we can speak of representativeness with good conscience. Sample statistics of religious affiliation and political orientation are also very similar to official figures. Solely in case of Catholics, our sample only contains a share of 26% of persons with a Catholic denomination compared official shares of 30 and 29% in Germany in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

  8. 8.

    We conducted a confirmatory factor analysis that indeed supported the way we constructed our ecological indices. Further, in case of this index Cronbach’s alpha is 0.8482 and the average inter-item covariance amounts to 0.59. A correlation matrix for all items is presented in Table 13 in the Appendix.

  9. 9.

    In case of this index, Cronbach’s alpha is 0.8012 and the average inter-item covariance amounts to 0.57.

  10. 10.

    In case of this index, Cronbach’s alpha is 0.8943 and the average inter-item covariance amounts to 0.73.

  11. 11.

    We also have information on the investment experiences of the respondents as we asked them to indicate which kinds of investment products they had in their portfolio (they could choose between savings account, stocks, equity funds, and twelve other products). Further information and descriptive statistics are available upon request.

  12. 12.

    See, for example, Hong et al. (2004) who use a similar question.

  13. 13.

    We also asked the respondents to self-assess their religious strength on a five-point Likert scale. However, due to multicollinearity issues we do not include this variable in the main analysis, but in the robustness checks in “Robustness Checks” section.

  14. 14.

    We also include the auxiliary variable ‘Share of others’ that contains the share of other religions, but also the share of unknown persons. Thereby, we ensure that the share of non-adherents serves as reference group.

  15. 15.

    Following previous studies by Salaber (2013), Kumar et al.(2011), and Kumar and Page (2014), we also created other measures for religion and religiosity (see “Robustness Checks” section). However, ‘Share of Catholics’ and ‘Share of Protestants’ reveal the most informative estimation results in our case.

  16. 16.

    Further empirical studies for the USA (e.g., Dunlap and McCright 2008; Ziegler 2015), Australia (Unsworth and Fielding 2014), and Germany (Ziegler 2015) show that conservative or right-aligned political views are negatively related to climate change beliefs, the perception of human contribution to climate change, and support for climate policy. Generally, previous studies in the field of pro-environmental or pro-social consumption find clear differences between left- and right-aligned voters (see, e.g., Costa and Kahn 2013; Dastrup et al. 2012; Kahn 2007), while empirical studies on this issue are rare in context of investment decisions and even reveal unexpected results. For example, Hood et al. (2014) analyze individuals’ stock holdings of US firms and find that investors from Democratic counties are less likely to invest in stocks with environmental strengths in terms of KLD ratings.

  17. 17.

    We included the Christian Democratic Party (CDU/CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), Liberal Party (FDP), Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), Left Party (Die Linke), Alternative for Germany (AfD), Pirate Party (Piratenpartei), and the options “Another party”, and “No answer”.

  18. 18.

    According to figures for April 2013 and October 2014 published by the political and electoral research institute infratest dimap (2015), both parties were clearly on the left-hand side of a left–right scale at both time periods. The Green Party typically represents green and protest views (Schumacher 2014) and is also located on the left side on a left–right scale (infratest dimap 2015).

  19. 19.

    These figures are very close to those published by the German opinion research institute Infratest Dimap for December 2013 (see infratest dimap 2013).

  20. 20.

    Election results for six Thuringian counties are not listed in this dataset and were additionally collected from the official website of the Thüringer Landesamt für Statistik (2016).

  21. 21.

    Hence, we follow a similar approach as conducted by Georgarakos and Pasini (2011) who use information from the SHARE dataset for the year 2004 and measure sociability with a binary variable that takes the value one if (at least) one household member does voluntary or charity work, is member of a club, and/or politically active. However, contrary to the measurement of religiosity or political orientation, due to lack of information, we cannot include the degree of sociability at the community level, as, for example, Brown et al. (2008) do.

  22. 22.

    In this context, we mention that we are aware of the problem that applying a Poisson model with robust standard errors could be preferable as Negbin models are not even consistent if the underlying distribution assumptions do not hold.

  23. 23.

    We also considered multivariate ordered probit and a variety of (bivariate) binary probit models in an earlier version of this study in order to take the strong correlation between the different behaviors into account [see, e.g., Ziegler (2013) for the case of process and product innovations]. However, the results are very similar and we report the results in the less sophisticated ordered probit models to increase the readability of this study.

  24. 24.

    Note that we have to drop about 100 observations as several persons did not answer the question on how many times they actively pursue their religion per week.


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For this project, we received a contribution by the Regional Office in Hesse of the Deutsche Bundesbank, which was used to finance part of the survey costs.

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Correspondence to Gunnar Gutsche.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.



See Table 13.

Table 13 Correlation matrix of all items used to construct the three indices used as dependent variables in the empirical analysis

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Gutsche, G. Individual and Regional Christian Religion and the Consideration of Sustainable Criteria in Consumption and Investment Decisions: An Exploratory Econometric Analysis. J Bus Ethics 157, 1155–1182 (2019).

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  • Sustainable and responsible behavior
  • Consumption and investment decisions
  • Household behavior
  • Christian religion
  • Political orientation

JEL Classification

  • D12
  • D14
  • G11
  • Q56
  • Z12