Pre-reformation Roots of the Protestant Ethic


  • This article was previously circulated under the title ‘Religious Orders and Growth through Cultural Change in Pre-Industrial England’. We thank Daron Acemoglu, Philippe Aghion, Quamrul Ashraf, Sascha Becker, Steve Broadberry, Roland Benabou, Francesco Caselli, Matteo Cervellati, Matthias Doepke, Raquel Fernández, Oded Galor, Peter Sandholt Jensen, Andros Kourtellos, Thomas Markussen, Stelios Michalopoulos, Omer Moav, Kalle Moene, Ola Olsson, Enrico Perotti, Karl Gunnar Persson, Christoffer Sonne-Smith, Holger Strulik, Uwe Sunde, Joachim Voth, Fabrizio Zilibotti as well as seminar participants at the AEA meeting in Denver, the CEPR/CAGE conference on unified growth theory at Warwick, the conference on ‘Cultural Change and Economic Growth’ in Munich, on ‘Intergenerational Transmission of Entrepreneurship, Occupations and Cultural Traits in the process of long-run economic growth’ in Naples, DEGIT XV in Frankfurt, Gothenburg University, University of London Royal Holloway, the Macro and Income distribution meeting at the NBER Summer Institute, University of Oslo, University of Cyprus and University of Zürich for comments and suggestions. Errors are ours.


We hypothesise that cultural appreciation of hard work and thrift, the Protestant ethic according to Max Weber, had a pre-Reformation origin: the Catholic Order of Cistercians. In support, we document an impact from the Order on growth within the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution; English counties that were more exposed to Cistercian monasteries experienced faster productivity growth from the 13th century onwards. Consistent with a cultural influence, this impact is also found after the monasteries were dissolved in the 1530s. Moreover, the values emphasised by Weber are relatively more pervasive in European regions where Cistercian monasteries were located historically.