Aspirations, Beliefs, and Behavior: Evidence from a Randomized Religious Intervention in Western Kenya

Last registered on May 14, 2024


Trial Information

General Information

Aspirations, Beliefs, and Behavior: Evidence from a Randomized Religious Intervention in Western Kenya
Initial registration date
April 15, 2024

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
April 16, 2024, 3:28 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
May 14, 2024, 11:45 AM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.



Primary Investigator

Colgate University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Bates College
PI Affiliation
College of the Holy Cross
PI Affiliation
Maseno University

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
In recent years, economists have been increasingly interested in identifying how religion mediates economic development. Individuals’ religious beliefs shape their worldview and thereby interplays with many economic outcomes, from basic consumption to entrepreneurship to how people respond to policies. Thus, understanding whether or how different beliefs shape economic behavior is instrumental for policy makers and researchers to foster economic development. This question is particularly pertinent for economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches mark a major shift in the religious landscape. Pentecostalism is thought to instill greater aspirations, hope, and trust in individuals, all factors that economists have identified as key contributors to development. However, the direction of causality is not clear: Are those with greater aspirations and trust more likely to join a Pentecostal church? Or does belonging to a Pentecostal church and hearing its messages preached make one more aspirational?

In this project, we plan to test whether exposure to different religious messaging influences economic decision making. To do so, we will use a randomized control trial to measure the effects on behavior from an intervention that randomizes exposure to different religious messages. 1400 individuals living in informal settlements in Kisumu, Kenya will be randomly divided into a control group and two treatment arms. Those in each treatment will be invited to participate in two-day long workshops, in which one treatment is managed by Pentecostal preachers, and the other by a mainline Christian group (i.e., Anglican/Catholic). Following the workshop, a survey and experimental game in which participants allocate funds given to them from project staff will measure differences in behavior related to entrepreneurship, trust, and generosity resulting from the intervention. Our hypothesis is that those assigned to the Pentecostal workshop will exhibit more entrepreneurial and charitable behavior than those in the control group, consistent with a higher level of aspirations and trust.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Bird, Sam et al. 2024. "Aspirations, Beliefs, and Behavior: Evidence from a Randomized Religious Intervention in Western Kenya." AEA RCT Registry. May 14.
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Experimental Details


Pentecostal Christianity is linked strongly with increased aspirations, hope, and trust, all factors which economists have identified to play a major role in economic development and poverty alleviation. (e.g., Nunn and Wantchekon, 2011, Lybbert and Wydick, 2018; Genicot and Ray, 2020; Bloem, 2021; McKenzie et al., 2022). Much of the recent economic literature has focused on the drivers of the strong global growth of Pentecostal Christianity. In Brazil, for instance, Costa et al. (2023) find that recessions lead to increases in Pentecostal affiliation, likely due to increased social insurance provided by the churches. However, an open question is how the practices and beliefs of Pentecostalism change economic behavior. Understanding this question requires entangling the direction of causality: are those who are more aspirational more likely to join Pentecostal churches, or do the practices and beliefs taught in Pentecostalism make one more aspirational?

The global rise in Neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity (hereafter NPC) in recent decades has been dramatic, particularly in the Global South. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in particular, it is estimated that there were approximately 229 million adherents to this form of Christianity as of 2020 and it is the fastest growing religious group in the region (Johnson and Grim, 2023). The continued spread of NPC may have important implications for economic growth in one of the least economically developed regions of the world. Freeman (2015) describes that particular traits of NPC can have significant economic impacts, such as a focus on material wealth and well-being as a reward for faith (i.e., the “Prosperity Gospel”), which empowers individuals to take risks and stimulates entrepreneurial behavior. Indeed, Van Dijk (2012) describes sermons in NPC churches as explicitly presenting the Christian Gospel as a roadmap to economic success.

Randomized experiments can aid in identifying the relationship between religious affiliation/beliefs and economic outcomes. This proposed research project will provide the first randomization-based evidence on economic outcomes arising from NPC messages such as the prosperity gospel. To this point, however, there have been few randomized interventions related to religion in developing countries. One notable example, however, is Bryan et al. (2021), who in the Philippines show that poor households randomly selected to participate in an Evangelical Protestant education program have higher religiosity and income, the latter of which the authors attribute to an increase in ``grit.’’ We plan to diverge from this previous work by learning the economic effects of an intensive but short-term program related to NPC messaging in an African setting. Butinda et al. (2023) highlight how economists have largely underestimated the impact of beliefs in influencing economic development in Africa. This setting and design allows us to uncover increasingly relevant and generalizable evidence into the developmental implications of the fastest growing religious doctrine across the continent.

In our proposed project, we plan to organize intensive religious workshops to occur over two-days within informal settlements of Kisumu, Kenya. These workshops will serve as the intervention exposure, providing different forms of religious messaging to attendees randomly assigned to attend that workshops. We expect these workshops to be two days long to generate significant enough exposure to generate potential differences in behavior, but not so long as to be too inconvenient to the attendees. Additional details can be found in our pre-analysis plan.

Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Religion and church attendance; Religious attitudes and beliefs; Feelings of power and control; Grit; Self-Control; Results from choice experiment
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Details in pre-analysis plan.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Labor earnings; business earnings; expenditures and gifts; Alcohol use and spending; Time use
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Details in pre-analysis plan.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Of the 1400 randomly selected individuals in this project, 600 will be a control group and 800 will be in the treatment, which will be split evenly between two different treatment arms: participants in one treatment group will participate in a two-day long workshop with an NPC pastor who will focus on tenants of the prosperity gospel, while the second treatment group will attend a workshop with an establishment church speaker (e.g., Roman Catholic) for two days. The invitation to the workshops will also detail to the potential participant that a small monetary incentive will be provided for participation, which, as described below, will be used to help determine the economic outcomes.

Following the intervention, enumerators will conduct surveys and experimental games with the treatment and control individuals, which will take place within one week of the intervention to mitigate outside influences affecting the results. When the enumerator visits the household, they will introduce the experimental game by providing part of the incentive compensation to the participant (1 USD) which will be for a practice game, and the remainder of the compensation (7 USD) for the main experimental game.

For the primary experimental game, the enumerator will present eight scenarios related to economic behavior and decision-making in a random order, stressing that only one would be randomly chosen as binding.

Following this choice experiment, the enumerator will conduct a survey with the participant, asking demographic and household questions, questions related to time use and employment, questions on expenditures, and questions on alcohol consumption (alcoholism is a significant public health issue in this area). There will also be a detailed module in the survey related to religious practices and beliefs.
Given the results of the choice experiment and pre- and post-workshop surveys, we will test the hypothesis that attendance at a workshop featuring an NPC preacher focused on the prosperity gospel has meaningful effects on participant behavior and beliefs.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Households selected by a computer placing random points onto a map of localities. Churches selected by creating a random ranking of all Pentecostal churches and a random ranking of all Anglican/Catholic churches in each locality. We will choose the top four Pentecostal churches from that list from each locality, and the top Anglican/Catholic church from each locality to invite to host workshops. Further details in pre-analysis plan.
Randomization Unit
Households. Stratified random sampling by locality.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
1,400 households
Sample size: planned number of observations
1,400 households
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
600 households in control, 400 in treatment arm one (Pentecostal), 400 in treatment 2 (Mainstream).
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Maseno University Scientific and Ethics Review Committee
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB Name
Colgate University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

Analysis Plan Documents


MD5: 19ce54894b7388be037e5145f9400e53

SHA1: c8193df3f032bd1458aee15f38d8632345ae6b7b

Uploaded At: May 14, 2024