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Becker, Sascha O.; Nagler, Markus; Wößmann, Ludger (September 2017): Education and religious participation. City-level evidence from Germany's secularization period 1890-1930. In: Journal of Economic Growth, Vol. 22, No. 3: pp. 273-311
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Abstract

Why did substantial parts of Europe abandon the institutionalized churches around 1900? Empirical studies using modern data mostly contradict the traditional view that education was a leading source of the seismic social phenomenon of secularization. We construct a unique panel dataset of advanced-school enrollment and Protestant church attendance in German cities between 1890 and 1930. Our cross-sectional estimates replicate a positive association. By contrast, in panel models where fixed effects account for time-invariant unobserved heterogeneity, education-but not income or urbanization-is negatively related to church attendance. In panel models with lagged explanatory variables, educational expansion precedes reduced church attendance, while the reverse is not true. Dynamic panel models with lagged dependent variables and instrumental-variable models using variation in school supply confirm the results. The pattern of results across school types is most consistent with a mechanism of increased critical thinking in general rather than specific knowledge of natural sciences.