Freakonomics correlates happiness and religious giving.
In the episode you’ll hear from Laurence Iannaccone, an economist at Chapman University who specializes in the economics of religion. Iannaccone says there is a strong correlation between religious giving and happiness but, as you’ll find out, just because giving and happiness seem to go hand in hand doesn’t mean the giving causes the happiness.
You’ll also hear from MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who has done quite a bit of research on these topics. In “Pay or Pray? The Impact of Charitable Subsidies on Religious Attendance” (abstract; PDF), Gruber tried to determine whether giving money to church is a complement to religious attendance or a substitute — and, whether it’s the giving or the going that actually makes people better off.
The economic argument for subsidizing charitable giving relies on the positive externalities of charitable activities, particularly from the religious institutions that are the largest recipients of giving. But the net external effects of subsidies to religious giving will also depend on a potentially important indirect effect as well: impacts on religious participation. Religious participation can be either a complement to, or a substitute with, the level of charitable giving. Understanding these spillover effects of charitable giving may be quite important, given the existing observational literature that suggests that religiosity is a major determinant of well-being among Americans.
Here’s his suggestion for the Rogers Family:
GRUBER: I would say if it’s really going … to church that matters for them, for their happiness and well-being, then they should maybe even give less and just go more.