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Does Religion Really Reduce Crime?

Paul Heaton


Considerable research in sociology, criminology, and economics aims to understand the effect of religiosity on crime. Many sociological theories positing a deterrent effect of religion on crime are empirically examined using ordinary least-squares (OLS) regressions of crime measures on measures of religiosity. Most previous studies have found a negative effect of religion on crime using OLS, a result I am able to replicate using county-level data on religious membership and crime rates. If crime affects religious participation, however, OLS coefficients in this context suffer from endogeneity bias. Using historic religiosity as an instrument for current religious participation, I find a negligible effect of religion on crime and a negative effect of crime on religion. To further explore the relationship between religion and crime, I examine variation in crime incidence before and after Easter. Consistent with the IV results, I find no evidence of a decrease in crime following Easter.

Suggested Citation

Paul Heaton. "Does Religion Really Reduce Crime?" Journal of Law and Economics 49.1 (2006): 147-172.