Catholics more inclined to share wealth: ECB study

FRANKFURT Mon Oct 31, 2011 12:40pm EDT

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Catholics are more likely to support government intervention in the economy than Protestants and also have a stronger preference for sharing wealth equally, a European Central Bank study said.

The research paper also said Max Weber's theories about the Protestant work ethic were supported by the results of the study and that they apply more widely than thought, including in the choice of political institutions and in explaining income inequality.

"We do find Protestant municipalities to exhibit clearly higher income inequality," the study by Christoph Batzen and Frank Betz said.

"Relative to Roman Catholicism, Reformed Protestantism has curbed preferences for redistribution and for government intervention in the economy," it said, and added the impact of religion on income was not as significant.

Moreover, the research paper found that Weber's work better explains economic development than that of Karl Marx, the father of socialism, who saw culture reflecting the economic order, the research paper found.

"Religion is not just, as Karl Marx would have us believe, 'People's Opium', but can, by its own force, significantly change people's preferences, both self-regarding and social ones," the ECB study said.

Weber, in his seminal work 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism', published in 1904, said that Protestants are more likely to regard hard work as a way to salvation and that it encouraged accumulation of wealth.

The research paper, published on the ECB's Internet site over the weekend, but not officially endorsed by it, comes on the heels of a Vatican paper which called for sweeping reforms of the world economy and the creation of an ethical, global authority to regulate financial markets.

The Vatican's Justice and Peace department said last week the financial downturn had revealed behaviors like "selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale," adding that world economics needed an "ethic of solidarity" among rich and poor nations.

The ECB study was based on data from Swiss cantons of Fribourg and Vaud, the former Catholic and the latter Protestant.

(For a copy of the study, titled 'Marx vs. Weber: Does religion affect politics and the economy', click on: here)

(Reporting by Sakari Suoninen, editing by Paul Casciato)

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