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Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. Numeracy levels in the Guarani Jesuit missions

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Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. Numeracy levels in the Guarani Jesuit missions

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Abstract

This work provides data on human capital for the Guarani Jesuit missions during the 18th century. Based on the age heaping methodology, the results of a large sample (over 3,600 observations) suggest that the knowledge of numerical skills in these missions was exceptional. A comparison with other regions and locations with different institutional frameworks, religious or otherwise, or led by other religious orders, confirms the exceptionality of the Guarani Jesuit missions. The model of these missions, based on productive self-sufficiency and egalitarian and cohesive social organization, as well as respect for the pre-existing culture exemplified by their Guaraníization and adaptation to the Guarani world view and language, could explain their successful educational performance and the intergenerational transmission of human capital beyond the disappearance of the Jesuit missions after 1767.

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Max Weber attributed the higher economic prosperity of Protestant regions to a Protestant work ethic. We provide an alternative theory: Protestant economies prospered because instruction in reading the Bible generated the human capital crucial to economic prosperity. We test the theory using county-level data from late-nineteenth-century Prussia, exploiting the initial concentric dispersion of the Reformation to use distance to Wittenberg as an instrument for Protestantism. We find that Protestantism indeed led to higher economic prosperity, but also to better education. Our results are consistent with Protestants' higher literacy accounting for most of the gap in economic prosperity.
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