Working paper

On the Road to Heaven: Self-Selection, Religion, and Socio-Economic Status

Mohamed Saleh


Inter-religion socioeconomic differences are often attributed to religion. Instead, I trace the phenomenon in Egypt to self-selection-on-socioeconomic-status during Egypt’s conversion from Coptic Christianity to Islam. Self-selection was driven by a regressive tax-on-religion that was imposed upon the Arab Conquest of Egypt in 641 and lasted until 1856. Using novel data sources, I document that (a) the long-term trends of the tax, conversions, and the Coptic-Muslim occupational differences are consistent with the selection hypothesis, and (b) districts with a higher tax in 641- 1100 had relatively fewer, but differentially better-off, Copts in 1848-1868. I discuss why the initial selection persisted over time.


Religion; poll tax; persistence; conversion; Middle East;

JEL codes

  • N35: Asia including Middle East
  • O15: Human Resources • Human Development • Income Distribution • Migration

See also

Published in

IAST working paper, n. 13-04, August 2013, revised December 2015