The Effects of the Protestant Reformation on Human Capital

Sascha O. Becker and Ludger Woessmann

in The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Religion

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780195390049
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Effects of the Protestant Reformation on Human Capital

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  • Economics
  • Labour and Demographic Economics
  • Economic History



Max Weber's (1904) thesis that the Protestant Reformation was instrumental in facilitating industrial capitalism in Western Europe is generally viewed as the “most famous link between culture and economic development.” Weber suggested that Protestants had a specific work ethic that made them work harder and save more. In recent work, an alternative explanation has been proposed that receives strong empirical support: Protestants had higher human capital, which made them more productive and therefore increased their economic prosperity. This article explores the recent advancements in the economics of religion that assign a leading role to human capital in understanding the economic effects of the Reformation. It first provides a brief sketch of the underlying theory and then presents extensive evidence on the effects of the Reformation on human capital using data from nineteenth-century Prussia. The article also discusses consequences beyond education, covering effects on economic development as well as on the fertility decline. Evidence from outside Prussia, both across and within countries, is also presented.

Keywords: Reformation; Protestants; human capital; economic development; education; Prussia; fertility; economics; religion

Article.  6294 words. 

Subjects: Economics ; Labour and Demographic Economics ; Economic History

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