When shopping took on religion

Impressive architecture, and maybe makes you happy too

I don’t mean to sound preachy or patronising, but apparently going to church instead of shopping makes women happier. It’s not clear why, if this is the case, they are not going to church and continuing to go shopping. Maybe it’s because people aren’t very good at predicting what will make them happy. Maybe it’s because people tend to be tempted away by activities that only increase their short-term happiness. Maybe it’s because shopping isn’t actually “entertainment”, it’s a dreary dull necessity required for the proper functioning of the household, and women are selflessly sacrificing their Sundays for the greater good of the family.

A new discussion paper from economists Danny Cohen-Zada and William Sander look at what happened in the US when various states repealed “blue laws” that restrict retail activity on Sundays. The ability to go shopping on Sunday increased the opportunity cost of going to church and as might be predicted, church attendance fell. This was also accompanied by a fall in how happy people said they were in surveys – particularly for white women whose attendance at church fell the most.

It is difficult to say for certain that it is church attendance specifically that is driving the trend in happiness: there is always a chance that there might be something else that happened around the same time as the repeal of “blue laws” that could be a factor.

But even if it is accepted that church attendance is the main cause of the fall in happiness, it isn’t clear what is at the root cause. Is it belief in God? Is it about regularly meeting friends and family? Is it about sharing experiences with other people? Is it about having an excuse not to do the grocery shopping?

The full paper is here.

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