The cost of repealing blue laws

May 23, 2008

Repealing America's blue laws not only decreased church attendance, donations and spending, but it also led to a rise in alcohol and drug use among people who had been religious, according to a new study by economists Jonathan Gruber of MIT and Daniel Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame.

Blue laws, or Sunday closing laws, refer to statutes that restrict certain activities on the Christian Sabbath. By the end of the 19th century, nearly every state had at least some law prohibiting certain activities on Sunday. The 1960s saw the beginning of push to repeal these laws in favor of commerce, although a few still remain on the books.

In their study, which appears in the May 2008 edition of The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Gruber and Hungerman show what happens when religious services must compete with shopping, hobbies and other activities.

To measure that competition, they studied the large number of states that repealed their blue laws over the past 50 years. (Massachusetts, for example, repealed its blue laws in 1994.)

"That policy-driven change in state laws allowed us to identify secular competition, as opposed to interreligious competition, which had been studied before," Gruber says. "We wanted to find out how people spent their time and money."

The economists used data from the General Social Survey on religious attendance and from the Consumer Expenditure Survey to show a very strong reduction in religious attendance and a decline in religious contributions once the blue laws were repealed. They found no change in other charitable activity, Gruber notes.

To confirm their findings and to complete the economic portrait, the authors also analyzed budget data for four major Christian denominations over the past 40 years. Church expenditures declined significantly since the repeal of the blue laws, they found.

Gruber and Hungerman did more than track how individuals chose to allocate their resources on Sunday once the malls were opened, a change widely celebrated from the early 1960s onward as freedom from old-fashioned ways.

They considered the negative consequences for individuals or society from loosening secular constraints and they found those consequences in behaviors associated more with Saturday night than Sunday morning.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) on consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs, the economists found that repealing the blue laws did lead to an increase in drinking and drug use.

What's more, they found that individuals who had attended church and stopped after the blue laws were repealed showed the greatest increase in substance abuse, Gruber notes.

Those effects have significant economic and social implications, the authors say.

The study, "The Church vs. the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?" can be accessed online at … /qjec.2008.123.2.831

Source: MIT

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4 / 5 (10) May 23, 2008
Theres no place for religion in todays world. Religion turns humans into rabid animals, say no to religion!
3.4 / 5 (10) May 23, 2008
There are so many flaws in this study I don't even know where to begin for God's sake.

Could it be that society was headed in that direction regardless of whether or not K-Mart was open on Sunday?
4.2 / 5 (10) May 23, 2008
Religion plus politics is always a bad idea. If you're going to start making scientific claims on stuff like this, you need some hard verifiable numbers. Otherwise you're just spreading some kind of propaganda.
4.1 / 5 (9) May 23, 2008
I think this is one consensus we can all agree on (the opinions expressed in the comments, NOT the article).
3.9 / 5 (7) May 23, 2008
There are so many flaws in this study I don't even know where to begin for God's sake.

Ditto. Like there's no church goers that keep a fifth in the freezer? Maybe the drunks went to church all along because the bar wasn't open. If you need a substance or deity to get by then kindly remove your genes from the pool.
3.9 / 5 (7) May 23, 2008
"Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) on consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs, the economists found that repealing the blue laws did lead to an increase in drinking and drug use."

I don't see anything besides a "presumption" of causality here.. maybe the attitudes that led to the repeals merely "corresponded" to the drinking and drug use.
2.9 / 5 (9) May 23, 2008
I'm surprised that most of the commenters are so quickly dismissive of this study. First, the study focused on the MARGIN: states that changed their laws, and those individuals who had attended church and stopped. What is interesting is that, on the margin, people who stopped attending church turned to substance abuse apparently more frequently than, say, shopping or working. This is interesting BECAUSE it may say something about the relationship between ritual's effects on the brain and drug/booze's effects on the brain. There are no "claims" or "politics" in the study (based on the article; I haven't read the actual study).
3.9 / 5 (9) May 23, 2008
Did you know that 95% of marijuana users were beer drinkers before they started using marijuana? Does this mean beer is a gateway drug to pot? I think not! The study fails to prove causality, merely association. Maybe the decline in church attendance is due to people wising up to the god myth.
1.9 / 5 (8) May 23, 2008
what a bullshit ???
religions suxx ...
3.7 / 5 (7) May 24, 2008
I note this is coming from the University of Nortre Dame. Wait, what's that study I see coming over the hill? A Philip Morris study showing an association between quitting smoking and being dismembered by rabid grizzly bears?

Studies like this can only be believed if they come from neutral groups. Environmental groups can't put out realistic global warming studies, oil companies can't be trusted to put out trustworthy numbers on remaining light sweet crude reserves, and religious organizations can't be trusted to not to cherry pick data until it shows that religion is actually a good thing! Never mind the abuse, wars, racism, holocausts, crusades, jihads, hatred, rapes, murders, lies, and thefts that have been openly carried out by the religions of the world. They're great we tells ya!

Now if someone puts out a study saying, "if you give up your only hobby you're more likely to become an alcoholic due to sheer mind-numbing boredom", that I'll believe. Wait, isn't that what this study actually says?
4.2 / 5 (5) May 24, 2008
Over the years I've posed a question to believers on message boards, letters to the editor, etc. but have never received an honest, rational answer.
The religious will often claim that without God our lives, our existence, has no meaning. I ask: If god gives your existence meaning what gives god's existence meaning? Most of the time I don't even get an answer. When I do it's usually some variation of the old "God has reasons man was not meant to know" or "The mind of God is beyond man's understanding" cop-outs. Then I ask: If you say that god is beyond all of man's understanding but you then claim that god gives your existence meaning how can you really say anything at all about the meaning of your existence?
I virtually never get an answer to that. That's probably because "God" is really just an imaginary black box into which people toss all of their existential crises (like questions of meaning and death) in order to get back comforting but entirely bogus "answers." They don't want to confront these issues in a mature, rational manner; it's too scary and complicated. When their comforting pseudo answers are taken away it's no wonder they turn to booze.
Then there's the "God doesn't need man; man needs God!" assertion.
So god just goes around creating things he has no need for? If god doesn't need man why did he, supposedly, create him? If god created us out of no need, for no reason, there goes their whole "God as a source of meaning" belief. Of course, if he created us for some reason then he does in fact need us.
These tactics are fun for tying believer's brains in knots.
3.7 / 5 (3) May 25, 2008
KB6, you are asking a slew of forbidden questions :)

Religion, booze, wealth... all encourage complacency. Complacency encourages a lack of thinking, in all too many cases. Meet the status quo, settle down with a purdy spouse, and don't think about how our cultural norms promote senseless consumerism and exploit the rest of the world so we can get the lowest prices at Wal-Mart.

So go to church. Praise Him (It MUST be a male, and it MUST have a gender). Feel good about yourself. It just didn't work for me.

I was a fervent "believer" for 17 years (emphasis on was). The questions you asked, KB6, were NEVER addressed. Thinking that hard was strictly forbidden.
1 / 5 (3) May 26, 2008
all these people need to be arrested and imprisioned for their own good and as a message for others that with Freedom comes a price!!
5 / 5 (2) May 27, 2008
Now if someone puts out a study saying, "if you give up your only hobby you're more likely to become an alcoholic due to sheer mind-numbing boredom", that I'll believe. Wait, isn't that what this study actually says?

^ Hell yes.

Maybe boozing is a reward for not asking God a bunch of questions and to constantly intervene in it's perfect creation. Leave the poor guy alone, maybe he wants to drink beer and fish on Sunday instead of hearing your complain about EVERYTHING.

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