By Elizabeth Morrissette
Both Suffolk County and Norfolk County, Massachusetts are part of the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area and are adjacent to one another, but the counties have vastly different expected economic outcomes for the children who are raised there. Children who grow up in Norfolk County have average expected incomes that are $12,000 higher than children who grow up in Suffolk County (“The Opportunity Atlas”). Recent research in economics has taken an interest in explaining differences in intergenerational mobility outcomes for children growing up in different counties. One of the explanations researchers have explored is the relationship between social capital and intergenerational mobility–or an individual’s income relative to their parents–which they find to be positive (Chetty and Hendren 2017). Social capital provides individuals with networks that help them find employment, earn higher salaries than they would otherwise, and gain knowledge about positive economic behaviors.
In my thesis, I study religion as one specific element through which social capital might impact intergenerational mobility. Religion, as practiced through religious services and community gatherings, facilitates network building. My thesis establishes an association between religion and social capital through General Social Survey data, showing that religion could be a way that social capital influences intergenerational mobility.
My thesis proxies for intergenerational mobility using data on mean percentile rank in the national distribution of household income at the county-level. I use religious data from the Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA) and connect it to data on intergenerational mobility from Opportunity Insights. Analysis of this data reveals a positive, statistically significant relationship between religion and intergenerational mobility. This relationship remains when the regression controls for demographic factors and holds for various measures of intergenerational mobility.
I provide a causal analysis of the relationship between religious membership and intergenerational mobility using the presence of Catholic clergy scandals as an instrumental variable. These scandals impacted religious membership in areas where they occurred (Bottan and Perez-Truglia 2015). Using Catholic clergy scandals to instrument for religious membership does not exhibit statistical significance. Consequently, I examine the limitations of the instrumental variable analysis that would cause the instrument to be ineffective for this project.
My thesis also examines how income and race interact with religious membership, intergenerational mobility, and the relationship between the two. Using the data from the initial analysis and various Congregational Life Surveys, I find evidence that people of different races practice religion differently and that religious congregations lack income diversity, both of which potentially impact the relationship between religion and intergenerational mobility. My thesis finds that race and income are necessary factors to consider when having a complete discussion of the relationship between religious membership and intergenerational mobility.
My thesis finds that a correlational relationship exists between religious membership and intergenerational mobility, but I could not provide evidence of a causal relationship. This lack of a causal relationship could be explained through limitations with the instrument or the influence of socioeconomic factors like race and income. These potential influences merit further study.
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