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Free and Cheap Riding in Strict, Conservative Churches

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Iannaccone (1994) uses rational choice theory to argue that strict rules (e.g., no smoking or drinking) raise average commitment levels in conservative churches because strictness discourages free riding. Tests of this assertion have been hampered, in part, by uncertainties concerning how free riding should be measured. We introduce a new, indirect measure of free (and cheap) riding, the level of positive skewness of a congregation's money contributions—that is, the extent to which a few members give much more than the mean amount while the majority gives much less. Using a study of giving in five denominations, we find that strict, conservative congregations have both higher mean giving and less skewness in the pattern of their giving. The higher mean-contribution levels at strict, conservative congregations are not simply due to each member giving more or a few members giving a lot more. Instead, as Iannaccone's model predicts, some combination of strict rules and/or conservative theology appears to systematically limit the proportion of free- and cheap-riding members giving far less than the mean and thus increase the proportion giving at or above the mean.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Indiana University South Bend, South Bend, IN 46634, Email: [email protected] 2: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), 2300 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20007., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 June 2005

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