Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Impact of Government Corruption on Church Growth


Hylton, Rodionova and Deng published an enlightening paper entitled “Church and State: An Economic Analysis” (American Law and Economics Review, V13, N2, 2011) that examines consequences of regulation, taxation and subsidization of religion on a country’s level of corruption, economic growth and income inequality.  In part, their abstract reads

The results suggest that laws and practices burdening religion enhance corruption. Laws burdening religion reduce economic growth and are positively associated with inequality.

I will describe their paper in more detail in a future post but now I would like to focus on a similar question.  What is the impact of corruption on the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?  Growth is measured by the increase in the number of members between 20012 and 2011.  The data on corruption was provided by Transparency International and their 2012 index is reproduced in the world map, “Corruption Index by Country.”  The higher the index, the lower the level of corruption.  Graphically, the darker the blue, the less corrupt the government.  The colors move from blue to green, then yellow, brown and red.  Red also represents missing data.  The corruption index did not include Greenland, South Sudan, Western Sahara, and French Guiana. 

The Church grows faster in countries as the level of corruption increases.  The Church may be seen as a teacher of good behavior, a refuge from an uncivil society, or an alternative and better form of social organization for education, welfare or simply friendly society. 

To adjust the growth variable for the size of the Church in a region, I added the number of missions in a country.  This variable was statistically significant, explaining most of the variation in the data.  This is a problem because my goal is to focus on variables that influence growth outside the control of the Church. 

In previous posts, I measured the impact of declining birth rates and aging populations.  These variables are highly correlated with corruption.  Corrupt countries tend to have high birth rates resulting in a low median age.  When used separately all are statistically significant.  When used together none are. 

I also tested PEW’s two indexes of religious freedom: Government Restrictions and Social Hostility.  Neither index was significantly related to growth but that may be more a function of the data I am reporting than the importance of the variables.  I included countries with an active missionary and Church presence and thereby excluded countries most hostile to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other religions.

BubbleChart median age corrumption growth

I tried a different model specification using the growth rate rather than the numerical increase in members.  I tested the influence of median age of a country and the corruption index on growth.  The data is depicted in the bubble chart “Median Age, Corruption and the Church Growth Rate.  The median age ranges from 15 to 45 years and is placed on the horizontal axis.  The corruption index ranges from 14 to 95 and is placed on the vertical axis.  The growth rate of the Church determines the size of the bubble.  The chart clearly shows the relationship between median age and corruption described above; corrupt countries tend to be young.  I like the specification better.  The number of missions in a country became unimportant implying that the Church is efficient in allocating missionaries.  When growth was measured by the numerical increase in membership neither median age nor corruption were statistically significant when considered together.  Using the growth rate, median age becomes significant but not corruption. My interpretation of this result is that membership is less influenced by the environment around an individual than their personal relationship with God.  Need drives people to consider their relationship with God and the young have more needs than the old.

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