DP12622 | Religions, Fertility, and Growth in South-East Asia

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We investigate the extent to which religions' pronatalism is detrimental to growth via the fertility/education channel. Using censuses from South-East Asia, we first estimate an empirical model of fertility and show that having a religious affiliation significantly raises fertility, especially for couples with intermediate to high education levels. We next use these estimates to identify the parameters of a structural model of fertility choice. On average, Catholicism is the most pro-child religion (increasing total spending on children), followed by Buddhism, while Islam has a strong pro-birth component (redirecting spending from quality to quantity). We show that pro-child religions depress growth in the early stages of growth by lowering savings, physical capital, and labor supply. These effects account for 10% to 30% of the actual growth gaps between countries over 1950-1980. At later stages of growth, pro-birth religions lower human capital accumulation, explaining between 10% to 20% of the growth gap between Muslim and Buddhist countries over 1980-2010.