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Journal cover: International Journal of Social Economics

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Online from: 1974

Subject Area: Economics

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The greying church: the impact of life expectancy on religiosity

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Title:The greying church: the impact of life expectancy on religiosity
Author(s):Elissaios Papyrakis, (School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK), Geethanjali Selvaretnam, (School of Economics and Finance, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK)
Citation:Elissaios Papyrakis, Geethanjali Selvaretnam, (2011) "The greying church: the impact of life expectancy on religiosity", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 38 Iss: 5, pp.438 - 452
Keywords:Beliefs, Churches, Decision making, Life expectancy, Religion
Article type:Research paper
DOI:10.1108/03068291111123138 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Acknowledgements:The authors are grateful to Bereket Kebede and Ian Smith for comments on an earlier draft. The authors received helpful comments from several participants in a seminar on the economics of religion given at the School of Economics at the University of East Anglia on April 29, 2010. The authors take responsibility for any remaining errors.

Purpose – In recent years, there has been an expanding literature on the socio-economic determinants of religiosity. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to this stream of the literature by studying the impact of life expectancy on religiosity through a theoretical decision-making framework, and by separately examining the decision of young and old individuals with respect to religious participation.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper analyses religiosity through a cost-benefit framework, where decisions at each point in time depend on expected social and spiritual benefits attached to religious adherence (both contemporaneously, as well as in the afterlife), the probability of entering heaven in the afterlife, as well as the costs of formal religion in terms of time allocated to religious activities. It provides the theoretical underpinnings for the negative correlation between life expectancy and religious attendance previously observed in empirical analysis.

Findings – The analysis reveals how increases in life expectancy encourage postponement of religious involvement, particularly in religion doctrines that do not necessarily link salvation (or afterlife benefits more broadly) to the timing of religiosity. This demonstrates that religious establishments should anticipate to attract older members, particularly in countries which have high life expectancy or expect significant increases in life expectancy, although current socio-economic benefits can counterbalance the negative impact of life expectancy on religiosity and hence encourage religious involvement.

Originality/value – The paper contributes to the literature on the economics of religion by exploring the mediating role of life expectancy in explaining cross-country differences in religious expression, a channel that has so far received little attention in the literature. Its innovation lies in distinguishing decision making over different time intervals and evaluating the role of benefits and costs through the life cycle and in the afterlife.

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