Was Weber wrong? A human capital theory of protestant economic history

Sascha O. Becker, Ludger Woessmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

440 Citations (Scopus)


Max Weber attributed the higher economic prosperity of Protestant regions to a Protestant work ethic. We provide an alternative theory: Protestant economies prospered because instruction in reading the Bible generated the human capital crucial to economic prosperity. We test the theory using county-level data from late-nineteenth-century Prussia, exploiting the initial concentric dispersion of the Reformation to use distance to Wittenberg as an instrument for Protestantism. We find that Protestantism indeed led to higher economic prosperity, but also to better education. Our results are consistent with Protestants' higher literacy accounting for most of the gap in economic prosperity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-596
Number of pages66
JournalQuarterly Journal of Economics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes

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