Journal of Christian Education 1970, 13 (3), 169-176.



Macquarie University


This paper reports the results of a piece of research in which mechanisms whereby protestantism was said to confer a material advantage on its adherents in historical times are accepted as a basis for deductions about the advantages committed protestants might have over unbelievers in modern times. An empirical test of these deductions is made on a group of young Australian males with a nominal background of Anglican affiliation. It is confirmed that Christian (protestant) affiliations and loyalty go together with high achievement orientation but it is also found that the more highly educated people are, the more they tend to be unbelievers. These countervailing tendencies would seem to explain why unbelievers and protestant Christians are not differentiated in terms of occupational status.


This article arises out of a consideration of the grounds for Max Weber's thesis [1] that protestantism was largely responsible for the birth of capitalism and hence the shape of the modern world. Weber himself studied the "Protestant Ethic" in the context of European and American Calvinism and he saw Calvinism as conferring a materialistic advantage on its adherents via the doctrine of predestination and the inferences for action that may be drawn from it. Few writers, however, have wished to restrict the account to Calvinist protestants only and writers such as Hudson [2] and the Georges [3] have pointed rather to Calvinist teachings on individualism and "this-worldliness" as crucial for the development of the modern capitalist spirit. Such a modification as this, then, makes Weber's thesis generalizable to all protestant religions and not only to Calvinism. This is because all protestant religions feature the doctrine of individual and personal responsibility for salvation -- as opposed to the sacramental salvation of Catholicism. The habit of Bible study also appears to be a universal protestant practice -- if not a ritual. That habits of seeking one's own answers and making one's own decisions might, once acquired, lead to entrepreneurship in business, innovation in technology and discovery in science, is not hard to see.

The outstanding economic success of every single protestant country is startling evidence for the modified thesis. The few Catholic countries that may be counted in the "developed world" do at least have strong traditions of anti-clericalism (notably France and Italy).

Instead of Catholicism, formerly regarded as a fierce foe, modern protestants are more likely to see agnosticism and atheism as a present threat and a real challenge. The question will always arise: "In what sense may agnosticism and atheism be the wave of the future?" If protestantism has shaped the present world, who will shape the world of the future? If protestantism conferred a material advantage over Catholicism on its adherents, does it also give an advantage over atheism? Many would claim it does. The self-questioning and the moral anchors that committed protestantism requires can easily be taken as more adaptive than the carelessness and self-indulgence (might one say "decadence") permitted by atheism. For the purposes of the present study, then, the following hypotheses have been derived:

( 1 ) Practising protestants should show higher need for achievement and higher actual material achievement than unbelievers do.

(2 ) Among unbelievers, the more Christian ideals are accepted, the more the person should show high need for achievement and high actual material achievement.

The latter hypothesis stems from the observation that we do to some extent live in a "Christian world" and many unbelievers accept a basically Christian code of conduct even though they may reject Christian metaphysics. This phenomenon has been dubbed "Christianism". This in fact is a very convenient notion in that it enables one to separate out just one aspect of protestantism with a view to assessing its independent impact on material achievement. In other words, "Christianists" have the putative advantage of Christian study and self-criticism practices. This isolation of the moral components is highly relevant to the Freudian line of argument that "psychic" energy is "rechannelled" into business and commercial channels after its sexual expression has been blocked by the strictures of a puritan moral code. If protestants are at a competitive advantage due to this mechanism then Christianists ought to be similarly advantaged. If, on the other hand, the advantage of protestantism depends on the simple transferability of study, polemical and self-criticism habits to other fields, then the Christianist would not be expected to be similarly advantaged.


This study was done with 120 Australian National Servicemen. These are all males of approximately twenty years old. Since Australian conscripts are selected by a random ballot procedure from the general population, they make an excellent sample for any social research which seeks to make its results widely generalizable. The group chosen in this study were the recruits of Anglican background at the Kapooka induction centre.

To this group a questionnaire was given which contained three attitude scales designed to measure ( 1 ) Attitude to Christianity, (2) Christianism, (3) Need for achievement. The latter scale is based on work by Lynn (1969). See Tables 1-3. Other information obtained was (1) present religious belief/disbelief, (2) whether or not they had been confirmed, (3) highest educational level achieved, (4) pre-induction occupation, (5 ) origin -- whether urban or country, (6) whether or not they had ever been in a church youth group.


The intercorrelations of all variables are given in Table 4. The "belief" variable is formed by coding all subjects who described themselves as "no religion", "atheist", or "agnostic", as 2 (two) and all others as 1 (one), Thus a positive correlation between belief and need for achievement would mean that unbelievers have a higher need for achievement (n --Ach). Correlation coefficients (the possible range of values being from +1.00 to -1.00) which are statistically significant at the < .05 probability level are marked with an asterisk.

As there turned out to be only 25 professed unbelievers in the sample, it was impractical to attempt a direct test of the second hypothesis above. Extremely high levels of relationship would have to be present before statistical significance could be shown with such small numbers.

The notable findings from Table 4 may be summarized as follows:

( 1 ) The Protestant Ethic ( Christianism ) Scale was shown to be a valid measure by reason of its association with professed belief (r = --.214) and church membership (r = -.226).

(2) High scores on the Achievement Orientation Scale tended to be associated with a Christian religious background (r = -.272), church membership (r= -.228) and church youth-group membership (r= -.181).

(3) Scores on the Protestant Ethic Scale were positively related to achievement orientation scores (r = .226).

(4) Rural people have a stronger tendency to be believers than city people (r=-.177) but tend to send their children to Sunday School less (r= .215), They are not differentiated from city people in attitude to Christianity (r= -.011) or loyalty to the protestant ethic (r = .081).

(5) The more highly educated people are, the more they tend to reject the protestant ethic (r= -.179), the more they tend to have an unfavourable attitude to Christianity (r = -.353) and the more they tend to be unbelievers (r = .198).

(6) Loyalty to the protestant ethic, a favourable attitude to Christianity, religious belief, church youth-group membership and having been confirmed do not lead to a higher occupational status (rs are -.146, -.137, .112, -.105 and -.071 respectively).


The Attitude to Christianity Scale

There are nine " pro " and nine " anti " items. Scoring for " pro " items is as follows : Strongly agree (5), Agree (4), Not sure (3), Disagree (2), Strongly disagree (1). For " anti " items the scoring is reversed (i.e., Strongly agree is scored as 1 etc.). The reliability was estimated by Cronbach's [4] coefficient "alpha" and found to be .80. " Anti " items are marked " R ". The person's final score is the sum of his item scores.

1. Christianity represents a higher form of civilization.
2. Christianity has been a curse on mankind. R
3. Whether or not you believe in God, you have to admit that Christian morals make a lot of sense.
4. Christ was certainly a wise and great teacher.
5. Christianity is only for do-gooders and hypocrites. R
6. The old pagan gods seem to make more sense to me than Christianity. R
7. Bible-bashers are generally a bit warped. R
8. Christianity makes unnatural demands on people. R
9. If it wasn't for Christianity we would probably all still be ignorant savages.
10. The Christian churches have a lot of influence in making our society a better place to live in.
11. Christ was a weakling and a probable homosexual. R
12. Religion is a snare and a racket. R
13. It is important for people to have something to believe in.
14. Christianity does a lot of good in providing hospitals and care for poor people and others whom the rest of society neglects.
15. Religious instructions at school and Sunday school are an important part of a child's education.
16. Most churches teach a lot of hogwash. R
17. Clergy are totally out of touch with the problems of the ordinary person. R
18. When they're on their death-bed or getting old people begin to realize how important the clergy can really be.

[4] L. J. Cronbach. "Coefficient Alpha and the internal structure of tests". Psychometrika, 1962 . Pp. 297-334.


The Protestant Ethic scale [5]

As you know, everybody has his own idea about how he should live his own life. Some people follow one set of rules and some another. There is no guaranteed agreement on what rules and principles best. What we would like you to do is indicate how strongly you personally agree or disagree with the various policies, principles and commandments listed below.

1. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may be dead. R
2. Thou shalt not kill.
3. People should not envy of feel jealous of one-another.
4. Sex criminals should be hung no matter what excuses they give after the event. R
5. For girls to keep themselves virgins before they are married is old-fashioned and unnecessary. R
6. You should love your neighbour as yourself.
7. You should never speak lies about other people.
8. Generally, you shouldn't trust other people any further than you can throw them. R
9. All men should be treated as equals.
10. You should never steal.
11. Stealing is alright as long as you don't get caught. R
12. There's nothing wrong about having sex with another man's wife. R
13. You should never do harm or injury to any other person.
14. When a man hits you on your right cheek turn to him the other also.
15. I believe in "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". R
16. We should try to avoid self-indulgence.
17. Morality is for old women and hypocrites. R
18. There is no such thing as absolute right and wrong. R

[5] High scores on this scale indicate "Christianism" among unbelievers. Scoring is as in Table 1. Reliability was .76.


The Achievement Orientation Scale [6]

Here are some questions about the way you behave, feel and act. Please circle a number to indicate " yes " or " no ". Please work quickly and don't spend time over any question.

1. Do you like doing crosswords ? R
2. Is being comfortable more important than getting ahead ? R
3. Would you rather not have responsibility for other people ? R
4. Are you satisfied to be no better than most other people at your job ? R
5. Do you like to make improvements in the way the organization you belong to functions ?
6. Does inefficiency make you angry ?
7. Do you take trouble to cultivate people who may be useful to you in your career ?
8. Do you find it easy to forget about your work outside normal working hours ? R
9. Can you forgive a colleague being incompetent so long as he is a nice fellow ? R
10. Do you like gambling on football pools, raffles, the races, etc. ? R
11. Do you get restless and annoyed when you feel you are wasting time ?
12. Do you feel irritated when your watch does not keep time properly ?
13. Do you limit your recreational and social activities in order to work more effectively ?
14. Have you always worked hard in order to be among the best in your own line (school, organization, profession, etc.) ?
15. Do you think it wise for young men to delay getting married until they are properly settled in their careers ?
16. Do you like getting drunk ? R
17. Do you dislike seeing things wasted (food, electricity, etc.) ?
18. Do you think it essential to get right away from your work from time to time (e.g. by having a holiday, taking up new interests, etc.) ? R
19. Do you think that success in life is largely a matter of luck ? R
20. Do you lose track of the time and go without meals when you are absorbed in something ?
21. Do you generally try to do jobs as thoroughly as possible ?
22. Would you prefer to work with a congenial but incompetent partner rather than with a difficult but highly competent one ? R
23. Do you sometimes feel irritated by the special privileges and status symbols which people in superior positions give themselves?
24. Do you pay a great deal of respect to people in positions superior to your own ?
25. Do you dislike asking other people to do you favours?
26. Do you feel that there are too many rules and regulations in the world today ? R
27. Do you tend to spend your money without much planning for the future ? R
28. Do you tend to plan ahead for your job or career ?
29. Is "getting on in life" important to you ?
30. Are you an ambitious person?

[6] Scoring was Yes 3, ? 2, No 1 unless an item is marked "R" --in which case it is reversed. Reliability was .78.



The small number of people who did not say "Anglican" in response to the question "what religion or belief would you subscribe to now" (21%) is probably attributable to two causes. The first is that unbelievers tend in the army to go to the "third" denominational group (there are only three denominations allowed for in the army). This group is called O.P.D. or "other protestant denominations". In fact it caters for everyone not classified as Anglican or Catholic. The second reason is that adherence to Anglicanism is probably not seen by the majority of recruits as entailing assent to many of the traditional dogmas. Probably Anglicanism is seen to entail little more than a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the acceptance of the Bible as God's book. In other words it must emphatically not be assumed that all the people who claim to be Anglican in belief would in fact ever engage in any identifiable practice of it. (Only 47% of the sample had been confirmed, and only 21% had been in a youth group; 77% however, had attended Sunday School.)

This being so, it was decided to treat those recruits who had not been confirmed as being the "unbeliever" group far the purposes of testing the second hypothesis. It was found that, among this group, there was no significant relationship between Christianism and occupational status (r = -.165), between Christianism and education level (r = -.106) or between Christianism and achievement orientation (r = .184). Although the magnitude of these relationships is comparable with the magnitude of those reported earlier, with the smaller number of subjects involved (63) the results drop below the level of statistical significance.

The overall lack of relationship in the data between occupational achievement and adherence to protestant Christianity must not, however, be taken at its face value. The detailed results show that achievement orientation is in fact related to both protestant ethicalism scores and several indices of protestant religious affiliation. What Weber said of protestants versus Catholics seems therefore also to be true of protestants versus unbelievers. That this basic orientation is not reflected in actual occupational achievement is probably the outcome of two causes. The first is that these young men may not, at 20 years of age, have had time to move into their final occupations. It seems highly likely that achievement orientation would only make itself clearly felt in terms of actual occupational achievement after the course of perhaps an entire lifetime and at least only after the age of 30 to 40. The second reason is that there appears to be a countervailing tendency to protestantism, in that unbelievers tend to be better educated. Their better education would appear, at least in this age group, to make up for their lower achievement orientation.

It will be noted that the relationships reported, although statistically significant, are all rather small in magnitude. This is as would be expected. There are after all many things affecting one's orientation and one's actual achievement. One's religious background is only one of many influences on one's life and on one's life-style.

Finally, insofar as lack of confirmation is an index of non-practice among Anglicans, it would appear that christianists in this group are no better off in terms of actual or potential achievement than are non christianists. Thus the Freudian type of account (libidinal energy being re-channelled into material achievement after its sexual expression had keen blocked by the moral code) would seem to be contra-indicated. The christianists subscribe to this code but are not thereby advantaged over other non-believers. The benefit conferred by Protestantism would seem then to flow rather through the simple generalizability into the workaday world of habits and practices learnt or acquired in connection with the religious life.


Footnotes to the Introduction above:

[1] Max Weber, Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Trans. T. Parsons, London Allen & Unwin, 1930.

[2] W. Hudson, "The Weber Thesis Re-examined", Church History, Vol. 30, 1960, pp. 88-89 and "Puritanism and the Spirit of Capitalism", Church History, Vol. 18, 1949, pp. 3-16.

[3] C. H. George, "Protestantism and Capitalism in Pre-revolutionary England", Church History, Vol. 27, 1958, pp. 351-371; C. H. George and K. George, The Protestant Mind of the English Reformation, 1570-I640. Princeton University Press, 1961.


The prior work on achievement motivation by Lynn that was referred to above was briefly reported in Lynn (1969) and commented on in Ray (1971). A further development of the work is in Ray (1975). Updates on the range of achievement motivation scales available are to be found in Ray (1984 & 1986).


Lynn, R. An achievement motivation questionnaire. Brit. J. Psychol. 1969, 60, 529-534.

Ray, J.J. (1971) Correspondence: Regarding the Lynn n-Ach test. Bulletin British Psychological Society, 24, 352.

Ray, J.J. (1975) A behavior inventory to measure achievement motivation. J. Social Psychology 95, 135-136.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Self-report measures of achievement motivation: A catalog. Document ED 237 523, ERIC Clearinghouse on tests. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Ray, J.J. (1986) Measuring achievement motivation by self-reports. Psychological Reports 58, 525-526.

The paper below may also be of interest:

Ray, J.J. (1982) The Protestant ethic in Australia. Journal of Social Psychology, 116, 127-138.


Replication is one of the cornerstones of science. A new research result will normally require replication by later researchers before the truth and accuracy of the observation concerned is generally accepted. If a result is to be replicated, however, careful specification of the original research procedure is important.

In questionnaire research it has been my observation that the results are fairly robust as to questionnaire format. It is the content of the question that matters rather than how the question is presented (But see here and here). It is nonetheless obviously desirable for an attempted replication to follow the original procedure as closely as possible so I have given here samples of how I presented my questionnaires in most of the research I did. On all occasions, respondents were asked to circle a number to indicate their response.

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