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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2018

Eli Berman
University of California San Diego
Laurence R. Iannaccone
Chapman University
Giuseppe Ragusa*
European Central Bank
Address correspondence to: Giuseppe Ragusa, European Central Bank, Frankfurt, Germany; e-mail:
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Total fertility in the Catholic countries of Southern Europe has dropped to remarkably low rates (=1.4) despite continuing low rates female labor force participation and high historic fertility. We model three ways in which religion affects the demand for children – through norms, market wages, and childrearing costs. We estimate these effects using new panel data on church attendance and clergy employment for 13 European countries from 1960 to 2000, spanning the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Using nuns per capita as a proxy for service provision, we estimate fertility effects on the order of 300 to 400 children per nun. Moreover, nuns outperform priests as a predictor of fertility, suggesting that changes in childrearing costs dominate changes in theology and norms. Reduced church attendance also predicts fertility decline, but only for Catholics, not for Protestants. Service provision and attendance complement each other, a finding consistent with club models of religion.

Research Papers
Copyright © Université catholique de Louvain 2018 

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We appreciate the comments of Alicia Adsera, Evelyn Lehrer, seminar participants at the NBER Labor Studies meetings, George Mason University, USC, UC Irvine, the Southern California Applied Economics workshop at UCLA, Duke NIH demographic meetings at UCLA, Brown, UCLA, the European Economic Association meetings, UC Santa Barbara, the Society of Labor Economics meetings, UC San Diego, Population Studies at Michigan, the Harris School, University College London, an ASSA session, and a session of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture (ASREC). Tiffany Chou and Liang Choon Wang provided expert research assistance. We acknowledge the support of National Science Foundation grant 0520188 through the National Bureau of Economic Research. The opinions in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Central Bank.


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