Faith & Money: What happened to our ‘Protestant’ work ethic?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Faith and Money
In 1904, Max Weber's book was titled (in English) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

In 1904, Max Weber’s book was titled (in English) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

One traditional source of American pride is the notion that our culture values hard work and getting ahead. A century ago, sociologist Max Weber called this the Protestant Work Ethic. Protestant Europe fostered the idea that hard work, thrift, and worldly success were signs of grace and salvation, Weber argued. This ethic is one reason capitalism emerged first in this part of the world, he maintained.

Centuries later, is the value of hard work still important?

The value of hard work seems to be dramatically fading in American life, even though the value of achievement remains strong. I reported earlier about how 4 in 10 Americans don’t rank “hard work” among the Top 5 values they hope to teach the next generation, based on findings from the World Values Surveys.

What about the value of hard work in other places around the world?

This may surprise you, but when researchers look around the world—they question that century-old “Protestant” label. Journalist David Briggs, a specialist on religion in America, recently wrote about this ongoing debate over the state of America’s so-called Protestant Work Ethic.

Which religious group leads the world in teaching children about hard work or thrift? It’s not Protestant Christians. It’s Buddhists. Briggs reports that Buddhists, in fact, lead all religious groups in the value of teaching children about thrift. Catholics and Protestants don’t differ in how much they value hard work.

Overall, no religious group has a stronghold on the values of hard work and thrift. “In looking at the religious engines of economic growth,” Briggs writes, “new research indicates it may be just as helpful to talk about an Islamic ethic or a Jewish ethic or a Buddhist ethic.”

Can church stimulate economic growth? Briggs reports another interesting fact, this one based on research conducted at Baylor University: “Entrepreneurs were 1.6 times more likely to attend congregations that encourage starting a business or making a profit in business.”

If you have a faith tradition, what does it say about the value of hard work and thrift?

Does religion influence your business decisions?

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