For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Protestants and Catholics: Similar work ethic, different social ethic"

by Arruñada, B (2010)


This article develops two hypotheses about economically‐relevant values of Christian believers, according to which Protestants should work more and more effectively, as in the ‘work ethic’ argument of Max Weber, or display a stronger ‘social ethic’ that would lead them to monitor each other’s conduct, support political and legal institutions and hold more homogeneous values. Tests using current survey data confirm substantial partial correlations and possible different ‘effects’ in mutual social control, institutional performance and homogeneity of values but no difference in work ethics. Protestantism therefore seems conducive to capitalist economic development, not by the direct psychological route of the Weberian work ethic but rather by promoting an alternative social ethic that facilitates impersonal trade.

Key Passage

Overall, the article finds little support in survey data on currently held values for Weber’s work ethic hypothesis in The Protestant Ethic, by which Protestants would tend to work harder and more efficiently than Catholics. It finds substantial support, however, for an alternative social ethic argument, as Protestant values are shown to shape a type of individual who exerts greater effort in mutual social control, supports institutions more and more critically, is less bound to close circles of family and friends and also holds more homogeneous values. In Weberian terms, the data are therefore more supportive of Weber’s view in The Protestant Sects, with its emphasis on mutual social control. In line with these results, the economic contribution of the Protestant Reformation would have been connected not to the psychology of individuals regarding economic activity but to their empowerment as citizens vis-a-vis other citizens, the community and the State, affecting the relative effectiveness of alternative enforcement systems. The consequences for economic growth and the development of Capitalism would be related, first, to the greater effort that individuals are willing to exert in informal social enforcement; second, to the contribution that having more independent individuals makes to the design and functioning of political and legal institutions; and, lastly, to the greater homogeneity of values among individuals. All these features work in favour of anonymous markets, as they facilitate legal enforcement and reduce the cost of impersonal exchange. (p.909)


Protestant Work Ethic, Catholicism, Protestantism, Weber, Social Ethic, Theology


Protestantism, Religious Views on Work

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