Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History: A Comment on Becker and Woessmann (2009)

This comment makes a contribution to Becker and Woessmann?s paper on a human capital theory of Protestant economic history eventually challenging the famous thesis by Max Weber who attributed economic success to a specific Protestant work ethic (Quarterly Journal of Economics 124 (2) (2009) forthcoming). The authors argue for a human capital approach: higher literacy among Protestants of the 19th century (and not a Protestant work ethic) contributed to higher economic prosperity at that point in history. However, the paper leaves the question open as to whether a Protestant specific work ethic existed or exists at all. Are there observable denomination-based differences in work ethic or is Protestantism only a veil hiding the underlying role of education? We use recent data to explore the role of Protestantism on work ethic. The results indicate that today?s work ethic in fact is influenced by denomination-based religiosity and also education.

Read full text


Schaltegger Christoph A., Torgler Benno