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Sci Adv. 2018 Jul 18;4(7):eaar8680. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aar8680. eCollection 2018 Jul.

Religious change preceded economic change in the 20th century.

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Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol, Oakfield House, Bristol BS8 2BN, UK.
Anthropology Department, University of Tennessee, 1621 Cumberland Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.


The decline in the everyday importance of religion with economic development is a well-known correlation, but which phenomenon comes first? Using unsupervised factor analysis and a birth cohort approach to create a retrospective time series, we present 100-year time series of secularization in different nations, derived from recent global values surveys, which we compare by decade to historical gross domestic product figures in those nations. We find evidence that a rise in secularization generally has preceded economic growth over the past century. Our multilevel, time-lagged regressions also indicate that tolerance for individual rights predicted 20th century economic growth even better than secularization. These findings hold when we control for education and shared cultural heritage.

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