Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 189–224 | Cite as

A tale of minorities: evidence on religious ethics and entrepreneurship

  • Luca NunziataEmail author
  • Lorenzo Rocco


Does Protestantism favour entrepreneurship more than Catholicism does? We provide a novel way to answer this question by comparing Protestant and Catholic minorities using Swiss census data. Exploiting the strong adhesion of religious minorities to their denomination’ ethical principles and the historical determination of the geographical distribution of denominations across Swiss cantons, we find that Protestantism is associated with a significantly higher propensity for entrepreneurship. The estimated difference ranges between 1.5 and 3.2 % points, it is larger the smaller the size of the religious minority, it is mainly driven by prime age male entrepreneurs and it stands up to a number of robustness checks. No effects are found when comparing religious majorities, suggesting that the implications of religious ethical norms on economic outcomes emerge only when such norms are fully internalized.


Entrepreneurship Self-employment Religion Culture Protestantism Catholicism Switzerland 

JEL Classification

Z12 J24 J21 Z13 



We thank Giulia Tura for excellent research assistance, Ulrich Woitek for providing the data on religious denomination shares in 1870, four anonymous referees and the seminar participants at the University of Bologna, the University of Milan, the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research, the conference of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture in Orange, California and the European Society for Population Economics in Braga for comments and suggestions. A particular thank to Andrea Ichino and Giorgio Brunello who commented on earlier versions of this draft. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by the University of Padova - Progetto d’Ateneo 2011—Grant No. CPDA113278. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PaduaPaduaItaly
  2. 2.IZABonnGermany

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