Catholics, Protestants and Muslims: Similar work ethics, different social and political ethics

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


This paper employs data from the World Values Survey (1995–2020) and the European Values Study (1999–2020) to test three hypotheses on attitudinal differences between Catholics, Protestants and Muslims: (1) the work ethic hypothesis, which covers attitudes towards work and some fundamental characteristics of the market economy; (2) the social ethic hypothesis, which concerns interpersonal trust, ethical standards and attitudes towards gender equality; (3) the political ethic hypothesis, which involves attitudes towards democracy and political violence, institutional trust and preferences for government-organized redistribution. The empirical analysis provides very little support for the work ethic hypothesis but solid support for the social and political ethic hypothesis. Although the results should be ultimately interpreted as partial correlations, they support the following argument. Market forces and the rise of post-materialist values may have dissolved the original role of a work ethic rooted in religion (especially in the Catholic and Protestant world). Yet, the socio-political ethic associated with Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam continues to manifest itself in attitudinal differences concerning interpersonal trust, ethical standards and gender equality, and in political preferences. A complementary analysis of regions with a historically strong influence of Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam supports this argument and suggests that the current attitudinal differences between the three religions are more related to their cultural and historical legacy than to current personal commitment to their specific doctrines.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Comparative Economics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)778 - 815
Number of pages38
Publication statusPublished - 06.09.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Boris Hirsch, Oliver Hormann, Julian Jäger, Mats Kahl, Paula Körner, Stefan Kruse, Philipp Lentge, Eva Markowsky, Mario Mechtel, Fernando Sánchez, Thomas Straubhaar and Christian Welzel for useful discussions and very helpful observations. I also thank two anonymous referees and the editor in charge, Timur Kuran, for their valuable comments which helped to improve the paper substantially. I also thank the excellent research assistance by Leoni Alewell and Kaja Kopiec. All remaining errors are mine.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Association for Comparative Economic Studies

    Research areas

  • Religion, Economic attitudes, Social preferences, Political preferences, Survey data
  • Economics