Development that Works
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    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Is religion good for health and education?



    It’s Easter, or as the Uruguayans call it, “tourism week”. So let us talk about religion and development.

    The immense majority of the world’s population is religious and believes that religion is important. According to the World Values Survey, 70% of the world’s population considers them-selves a “religious person”. In almost all of the developing countries that participate in that survey, the overwhelming majority of the population believes that religion is an important part of their daily lives.

    On the other hand, religious beliefs have been associated with higher economic growth rates (with hell more significant than heaven – here), although this fantastic  graph, based on a recent Gallup poll, suggests that religiosity is highest in the world’s poorest nations.

    So if religion is so influential and so relevant to billions, it is very intriguing that there little rigorous micro evidence of the impact of religion and religous belief on social outcomes such as health or education.

    There are numerous quantitative studies (see for instance here for the US or here for Chile) based on national social surveys which show that religion is positively associated with many outcomes of interest (education, income, welfare, health, domestic violence). Nevertheless, none of these studies is based on data that allows to determine causality.

    A search of the word “religion” in the electronic versions of three of the most influential books of the last year (Poor EconomicsWhy Nations Fail, and More Than Good Intentions), yields no relevant results or hits. The RCT economics academic literature that looks into the impact of religious beliefs on health or education outcomes seems to be practically non-existent (please prove me wrong).

    Nevertheless, the medical literature does shed some light. A 2005 comprehensive literature search identified five randomized control trials that describe the impact of religious intervention on health outcomes. The impact was positive.

    Religious intervention such as intercessory prayer had positive impact on many health intermediate and final outcomes such as length of stay in the hospital, fever, and immune function.

    Nevertheless, another 2006 study found that intercessory prayer itself had no effect on recovery from cardiac bypass surgery, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated was negative (higher incidence of complications).

    So everything indicates that it is better to remain agnostic on the impact that religion and religious beliefs might have on social conditions until further evidence arises.

    No need for a God complex there, yet.

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