Religious Orders and Growth through Cultural Change in Pre-Industrial England
Thomas Barnebeck Andersen, Jeanet Bentzen, Carl-Johan Dalgaard, & Paul Sharp
Working Paper, University of Copenhagen, Department of Economics, July 3 (2012)
We hypothesize that cultural appreciation of hard work and thrift, the “Protestant ethic” according to Max Weber, had a pre-Reformation origin. The proximate source of these values was, according to the proposed theory, the Catholic Order of Cistercians. In support, we document that the Cistercians influenced comparative regional development across English counties, even after the monasteries were dissolved in the 1530s. Moreover, we find that the values emphasized by Weber are comparatively more pervasive in regions where Cistercian monasteries were found historically. Pre-industrial development in England may thus have been propelled by a process of growth through cultural change.
In what is surely one of the most famous works in all of social science, Max Weber (1905) argued that the Protestant Reformation was instrumental in facilitating the rise of capitalism in Western Europe. More specifically, Weber argued that Protestantism, in contrast to Catholicism, commends the virtues of hard work and thrift. These values, which Weber famously referred to as the “Protestant ethic”, laid the foundation for the eventual rise of modern capitalism. Despite its prominence Weber’s hypothesis nevertheless remains controversial.