Tuesday, 23 July 2013


The underbelly of the Greek blogosphere has been in a state of outrage over the last few weeks, as the prospect nears of some stores being allowed (gasp!) to stay open on some Sundays. More specifically, major stores (over 250sqm) will be allowed to operate seven Sundays per year. Smaller stores will be allowed to stay open every Sunday.  Sounds super-duper evil, right?

Actually it sounds suspiciously like the England and Wales Sunday Trading Act of 1994 (Scotland, of course, allowed Sunday trading earlier.) Whatever its original inspiration, the measure, which has met with protest before, has faced opposition all along on three grounds.

  • First and foremost, it is seen as the thin end of a wedge that will in time crack open the regulatory framework that currently allows small Greek retailers across sectors to potter along at sub-optimal scale rather than being swallowed up by larger ones, some presumably foreign.
  • Second, Sunday trading is seen as a measure benefiting employers at the expense of workers, who will be coerced or otherwise tempted into giving up their most valuable leisure time to either work or consumption.
  • Third, Sunday trading is seen as social engineering, either upsetting an ancient tradition of upholding the Sabbath (which has, since Constantine the Great's Days, moved to Sunday), and/or setting aside a day for rest and family life.

I'll consider all three objections but I'd like to start with the religious argument which begs the question of how often people in Greece go to church anyway, and how religious we are. 

A brief introduction to religion in Greece

Loyal readers will know I'm a fan of the European Values Survey of 2008 (see here and here). Based on a large-ish, representative sample, it provides a snapshot of the values and beliefs of pre-austerity Greece combined with detailed personal information on interviewees and their background. In fact, you can check out the full questionnaire hereThe full dataset is available here

When asked how important religion was in their lives, 43% of Greeks said it was ‘very important’ and another 40.4%, said it was ‘important’ – which must surely rank us among the most pious of the European nations. A number close to the total of the above, 85%, claimed to be religious; 11% claimed to be non-religious, and only 3% claimed to be convinced atheists. 

Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith in Greece, with 93% of the Greek sample claiming to be Orthodox when asked. About 2% claimed to be Muslims, and about 1% were Roman Catholics. Moreover, religions don’t shift easily in Greece. Only a tiny 1.6% of the sample used to belong to a religious denomination other than the one they belonged to in 2008, and 74% of those used to be Orthodox Christians. This suggests that there is more conversion to the majority faith than otherwise, but the base sizes here are too tiny to reveal much on the movement of people between faiths.

Overall, 90% of people in Greece claim to believe in God, and another 3% claim (admit?) that they just don’t know. Yet believing in God doesn't mean you have to take the full package. Only 49% claimed to believe in life after death. When asked what kind of God they believed in, 23% said they believed in a non-personal ‘life force or spirit permeating nature.’ A more modest 69.5% believed in a personal god. 4% didn’t know what to think, even though they believed in some sort of God.

Consistent with the surprisingly high number of believers in a non-personal God, about 20% either never pray or pray less often than ‘several times a year,’ excluding religious services. Still, the majority (55%) pray more than once a week, most of them every day.

Religion is more prosaic than people might think; only 57% of the sample claimed to be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ interested in the spiritual. And when it comes to moral issues, even religious people such as the Greeks like a little bit of moral relativism. Only 21% of Greeks believe there are clear, absolute guidelines between good and evil. Another 36% believe that guidelines exist but some deviations can be excused. 42% believe there are no clear guidelines at all. 51% believe in heaven; 47% in hell. Yet 76% believe in the concept of sin.

The Church tends to be seen as an abstract force – it is seen as having useful answers first to spiritual needs (52%), then to moral problems (42.5%), then to family life issues (33%) and finally to social problems (24%). That's partly a function of how people engage with the church. Only 1.6% claim to belong to a religious organisation and 2.2% claim to volunteer for one.

This permissiveness still coincides with a fair amount of intolerance. 41.5% of the Greek sample believe there is only one true religion and other faiths have no truths whatsoever to offer. Another 29% are OK to concede that other faiths share some core truths but there still is only one true religion. This leaves 23% who felt that all faiths share some core truths and there is no true religion, while 4% who felt that no religions offer any truths.

On to that Sunday matter...

50% of the Greek EVS sample claimed that when they were 12, they were going to Church at least every week (71% went at least every month). Only 18.5% claimed to go to Church at least every week now, although 40% go once at least a month. 

Both sets of figures varied dramatically by age cohort, as can be seen on the graph to the right. The blue line may look definitive, but actually it doesn't tell us whether people naturally go to church more as they age or whether people brought up in different times tend to vary in piety. 

However, because the EVS asks people how often they went to church at the age of 12, and because it's easy to assume that churchgoing children are always accompanied by churchgoing parents, it is possible to infer how the churchgoing habits of parents have changed through the years, and compare them to the 2008 figures for parents only. I do this in the figure to the right (mind the jump from the 1990s to 2008 - the X axis would have to be twice as long normally). 

What's also possible is to tease out the effect of parenthood on attendance both in 2008 and extrapolate for previous periods, through a very simple binominal regression analysis involving just parenthood and age cohort. This revealed that, after accounting for age cohort, adults without children were 48% less likely to go to church than parents. This is a bit of an heroic assumption of course, since this ratio of parent vs. non-parent attendance may have changed over time.

Overall, we've got a pretty convincing downward trend in attendance, this it is possible that the recession  

Finally, the usefulness of religious services was questioned widely: 62% agreed partially or completely that they have their ‘own way of getting in touch with God, without Church or religious ceremonies.’

... and on to small retailers

Shielding small businesses from competition is a sure fire way of creating zombies, as the chart below demonstrates for 2008, the last pre-crisis year. You can find the data here, although be warned that these are only extrapolated estimates. If they're right, though, most small retailers in Greece were zombies even in the good days, barely surviving by trading rents with the State and avoiding competition whenever possible.



  1. All those stats about religiousness in Greece are nice, but I'm struggling to see the point you are trying to make. What if there's a downward trend in attendance or if they cherry pick the religious rules they follow?

    As far as I recall from my days in the Netherlands, they have faced the same issue and they resolved it by, largely, leaving it up to the local communities. That's why you can shop on a Sunday in Utrecht or in touristic areas such as Amsterdam, but not in many municipalities in the Dutch Bible Belt.

    I don't mean that we should follow the Dutch script word by word. I can think of a few reasons not to do so. However I often find it useful to look at how the problem at hand was tackled elsewhere.

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