Quantitative Social Science Working Papers
April 15, 2021
Does religious involvement make people more trusting, prosocial, and cooperative? In view of conflicting theories and mixed prior evidence, we subject this question to a stringent test using large-scale, representative panel data from the British Household Panel Survey (1991-2009, N ≈ 26,000) and the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2009-2019, N ≈ 77,000). We employ cross-lagged panel models with individual fixed effects to account for time-invariant confounders and reverse causality as two issues that have haunted earlier research. We find that religious involvement, measured by frequency of religious service attendance, on average has a positive impact on generalized trust, volunteering, and cooperation. Compared with religious attendance, other indicators of religious involvement, such as subjective importance of religion or whether one is religiously affiliated, have weaker effects on trust, volunteering, and cooperation. We also document substantial variation across religious traditions: the effects of religious attendance are strongest for Anglicans and other Protestants, but weaker and mostly statistically insignificant for Catholics, Hindus, and the nonreligious, while for Muslims we observe a negative effect of religious attendance on cooperation. Our findings are robust to the inclusion of potential confounders and a range of alternative model set-ups. Our study thus shows that religious involvement can indeed foster prosocial behaviours and attitudes, although this effect is in the current study context mostly restricted to religious service attendance and majority religions.