Is the Protestant Work Ethic Real?

Negative effects of unemployment for Protestants is twice as strong than for non-Protestants

They found that while unemployment reduces well-being regardless of religious denomination, “it has an additional negative effect for Protestants of about 40 percent the size of the original effect.” In other words, “the individual level unemployment hurts Protestants much more than it does non-Protestants.”

 

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1904 and today considered one of the foundational texts of modern sociology, Max Weber argued that European industrial capitalism had its origins in the Protestant Reformation. More specifically, he made the case that Protestant theology developed the idea of work and economic activity as a God-given “calling,” which caused people in Protestant societies to develop a strong work ethic, leading to the development of European capitalism.

The thesis remains controversial, and several studies looking at the relationship between Protestantism and economic growth have suggested there’s little empirical basis for it. But arecent paper (via HBR) by economists Andre van Hoorn and Robbert Maseland of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands takes a different approach, looking not at the outcome of work ethic but at the actual value people placed on work.

 

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