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Dealing with adversity: religiosity or science? Evidence from the great influenza pandemic

Berkes, Enrico, Coluccia, Davide M., Dossi, Gaia Greta ORCID: 0000-0001-8589-7563 and Squicciarini, Mara P. (2023) Dealing with adversity: religiosity or science? Evidence from the great influenza pandemic. CEP Discussion Papers (CEPDP1927). London School of Economics and Political Science. Centre for Economic Performance, London, UK.

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How do societies respond to adversity? After a negative shock, separate strands of research document either an increase in religiosity or a boost in innovation efforts. In this paper, we show that both reactions can occur at the same time, driven by different individuals within society. The setting of our study is the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic in the United States. To measure religiosity, we construct a novel indicator based on naming patterns of newborns. We measure innovation through the universe of granted patents. Exploiting plausibly exogenous county-level variation in exposure to the pandemic, we provide evidence that more-affected counties become both more religious and more innovative. Looking within counties, we uncover heterogeneous responses: individuals from more religious backgrounds further embrace religion, while those from less religious backgrounds become more likely to choose a scientific occupation. Facing adversity widens the distance in religiosity between science-oriented individuals and the rest of the population, and it increases the polarization of religious beliefs.

Item Type: Monograph (Discussion Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author(s)
Divisions: Centre for Economic Performance
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BV Practical Theology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
JEL classification: J - Labor and Demographic Economics > J2 - Time Allocation, Work Behavior, and Employment Determination and Creation; Human Capital; Retirement > J24 - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
N - Economic History > N1 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Growth and Fluctuations > N13 - Europe: Pre-1913
Z - Other Special Topics > Z1 - Cultural Economics; Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology > Z12 - Religion
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2024 12:51
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 12:32

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