Public Choice

, Volume 172, Issue 3–4, pp 443–463 | Cite as

The political economy of churches in Denmark, 1300–2015



This paper reports new time-series for the numbers and sizes of churches in Denmark over a 715-year period. Per capita, the new series are termed church densities. A pattern emerges in the series that corresponds to the main development in the economy: until 1750, the economy was in the traditional steady state, where church densities were high and did not decline substantially. Modern development set in after 1750. Since then, church densities have declined more than five times. Moreover, capacity utilization of church rooms has declined, which means that the reduction in the demand for churches must have been even larger. We argue that this large decline is caused by a fall in religiosity that is caused by economic development as measured by the rise in incomes. In parallel with similar transitions in other sectors, e.g., the Agricultural Transition, it is termed the Religious Transition.


Church stock Religious Transition Historical time series 

JEL Classification

N13 N14 Z12 



We are grateful to Thomas Clausen and especially Sophie Bønding for research assistance and to our two departments for financing that assistance, as well as Erich Gundlach for many discussions, and the referees and editor for unusually constructive comments. We also want to thank Casper Worm Hansen, who contributed to the design and early stages of the project; Michael Andersen and his staff at the DNM project for a fruitful meeting; the Center for Contemporary Religions at Aarhus University for consultations; Leif Danziger, Niels Haldrup, Karsten Merrald Sørensen, and Ron Wintrobe have given useful comments. The paper has been presented at the Department of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University; The Danish Public Choice 2015 Workshop, Aarhus; The European Public Choice 2015 Meeting, Groningen; the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion’s 2015 Meeting, Los Angeles; The Department of Economics, Deakin University 2016, Melbourne.

Supplementary material

11127_2017_455_MOESM1_ESM.docx (12 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of the Study of Religion, School of Culture and SocietyAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Economics and BusinessAarhus UniversityAarhus VDenmark

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