Do Strong Religious Beliefs Stifle Innovation?

Japan features extremely high innovation and relatively low religiosity. Getty Images

Countries that are intensely religious are typically less innovative than those that aren’t, according to a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study, titled “Forbidden Fruits: The Political Economy of Science, Religion, and Growth,” compares religious beliefs and belief in God with scientific innovation as measured by issuance of patents.

“In both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant and robust negative relationship between religiosity and patents per capita,” according to authors Roland Bénabou, a Princeton University economist, and Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni, both economists at Italy’s IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca.

The relationship is apparent when plotting the percent of the population that describes itself as religious against a population-controlled measure of patent applications filed by a country’s residents.

The relationship broadly holds up when the authors make adjustments for differences in gross domestic product, rates of higher education, population and other variables. So it’s not simply a matter of more religious countries being poorer or having fewer resources, Mr. Bénabou said in an interview.

“We’re not making strong claims as to what is causing what,” he said. “The pattern is there and people can offer their own explanation to the pattern”…


Not sure if it has anything to do with strong religious beliefs per se. It seems the high-innovation countries are usual suspects: the US, Europe, Japan, South Korea, with China catching up from the effects of Communism.

The Muslims world is at the bottom of the chart. Pakistan is the absolute worst. Innovation is strongly discouraged by Islam as we all know.

I do not see Israel on the chart, unless I am missing something.