Tuesday, November 22

Gee, I thought religion was supposed to make everyone happy

An old article from V. Postrel caught my eye: In Times of Stress, Can Religion Serve as Insurance? By Virginia Postrel discusses religious affiliation as a kind of insurance, referring to Insuring Consumption and Happiness Through Religious Organizations, by Rajeev Dehejia, Thomas DeLeire, and Erzo F.P. Luttmer
...the economists found that religious households have less volatile consumption. Their spending fluctuates about 30 percent less than spending by similar, nonreligious households...

The second part of their study looks not at spending but at a more direct measure of well-being: how respondents assess their personal happiness.

After all, Professor Dehejia said, "If you take the doctrine of religion seriously, then what religion actually does is it doesn't insure your income but it changes how you react to the negative shocks you face."...

Using religious attendance as their measure of affiliation, the economists get a strikingly different result by race. While whites get no significant "happiness insurance" from religious affiliation, blacks get a lot.

"The median level of religious attendance reduces the happiness impact of income shocks by blacks by about 75 percent," they write. The effect is greatest among those with a high school education or less.

The puzzle, said Professor Dehejia in the interview, is not why blacks benefit but why whites do not. "Why is it that among whites you see a significant insurance effect on consumption but not on happiness?" he asked. Perhaps, he speculated, whites feel guilty about the help they get.

The results are about the same for religious belief as for attendance, since the two are so closely connected. The economists note, however, that attendance matters most. "Just believing is not sufficient; one needs to participate in a religious organization to get happiness insurance," they find.

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