Recently, Dean Yang and Eduardo Montero sat down with the American Economic Association to discuss their research on the relationship between religious festivals and economic development in Mexico.
"I think one reason why we felt this is an important question to study, particularly in the Mexican context, is that these traditions were actually brought in by European conquerors," Yang said about the motivation for their research. "When you have religious traditions that are brought in and imposed from the outside, in this case by European conquerors, there arises a real possibility that the religious traditions end up being mismatched for the local environment. And that is one feature that ends up, we think, being pretty important about this context."
Yang laid out the results of their study, which found that communities with agriculturally coinciding festivals are poorer than communities without agriculturally coinciding festivals. This results in long-run negative effects on economic development.
Despite this finding, the festivals persist. Montero discussed why.
"It's hard to change some of these dates once they become codified as part of people's traditions and behaviors. One thing that we found in the data is that places that have these agriculturally coinciding festivals tend to be more religious and have higher levels of social capital," he said. "What this means is that they place a higher value on religion in their lives. They value these festivals even more as part of the community. We think that what's going on is that because these festivals happen at a time where it's particularly costly for people, it's a very strong signal of commitment to these festivals and religiosity."
Read and hear the entirety of Yang and Montero's conversation.