A new study in the CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW exploring the impact of religious beliefs on economic development has found that “Christianity has the most significant effect on economic growth” and that the steady increase of Christianity has played an important role in China’s economic rise.
This is really a spectacular finding. The secular CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW is a highly authoritative and respected journal on China and its economic development. Western economists would generally laugh at the idea that the Christian Faith could have a convincingly positive impact on a country and its economy.
The researchers discovered a positive correlation between areas of particularly robust economic growth and the prevalence of Christian congregations and institutions in these areas. The study builds on the prior research of Zhao Xiao, a Chinese economist who gained attention for arguing that China’s economy would benefit from the spread of Christianity. Zhao went to America to study the differences between the market economies of the United States and China. He found that “there are churches everywhere” in America, whereas in China, “there are bathhouses everywhere.”
His studies led him to write an article titled “Market Economies with Churches and Market Economies without Churches,” which argued that the key to America’s commercial success was its churches.
The positive connection between Christianity and the economy is good news for China, since Christianity is growing so fast in China that some predict that it will be the most Christian nation in the world in only another 15 years.
Wang and Lin, authors of the new study, analyzed provincial data during the ten-year period from 2001 to 2011, comparing the relative impact of different religious beliefs on regional economic growth, and they found Christianity to have the most significant effect.
The study revealed that religion in general had a positive impact on China’s economic growth, though the impact of Christianity was notably higher.
Part of the reason for this seems to be the institutionalizing tendency of Christian groups. Although Christians make up only 5% of the Chinese population, Wang and Lin found that Christian congregations and institutions account for 16.8% of all religious institutions, three times more than would be expected.
Religious institutions impact the economy in a number of ways, including direct spending for goods and services, salaries, as well as a broader “halo effect.”
This effect comprises the often unmeasured benefits, such as the safety net and networks provided to individuals, the magnet effect of attracting everything from lectures to weddings, and valuable public spaces that provide communities with centers of cultural, ethical, spiritual, and even recreational value.
Wang and Lin also argue that Christianity’s social ethics may have an impact on the Chinese economy, as well. The emphasis on the overall development of human beings present in Christian ethics, they contend, tends to result in legal and rational investment behavior, rather than illicit or wild speculation.
The mounting data for a positive correlation between a strong Christian presence and stable economic growth has important policy implications for China’s officially atheist government.
Even from a purely economic standpoint, the recent crackdown on Christianity may prove to be shortsighted and counterproductive. Not biting the hand that feeds you may translate into not slapping the hand that blesses you.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome