The Protestant Ethic

I was a little bit taken aback to realize yesterday that a large share of French businesses were closed for All Saints Day. It put me in a mind of some some old Weberian saws about Protestant work ethic and prosperity. That, in turn, reminded me of the fact that for Eurocrisis purposes, one of the main “southern” European countries is Ireland, which if you look on a map is actually the second-most-northerly (after Finland) of Euro member states.

The ECB turns out to have a new paper (PDF) on precisely this, which looks at Switzerland and compares Catholic jurisdictions to Protestant ones. They find more inequality in the Protestant areas and also harder working people: “Our empirical results suggest that ceteris paribus in a Reformed Protestant electorate support for increasing leisure time will be about 13 percentage points lower than in a Catholic electorate, and that support for government intervention will be about 11 percentage points lower.”


Economists moonlighting as empirical sociologists turn out not to really be producing the most rigorous research I can imagine, but I think it’s good to see deeper inquiry into the cultural and social roots of politics and economics. To an American, having November 1 as a day off seems slightly bizarre, but a proposal to curtail the two-day Thanksgiving holiday would seem equally bizarre. These holiday issues seem pretty arbitrary. And yet how many days out of the year people actually show up for work turns out to be a major driver of per capita GDP differences between developed countries.