Interesting discussion on Marginal Revolution. Much of the following is composed of edited quotations.
Hypothesis: A strong culture can promote an orderly, productive lifestyle.
Evidence: 3 religious communities
1. Utah has the lowest child poverty rate in the country, the highest birth rate but the lowest out-of-wedlock birthrate which must be somewhat due to to the fact that 60% belong to the LDS church
Many of the costs of poverty are sociological. Many of the poor do not have Mormon lifestyles. In Latin America, it is not uncommon for a rural village to have a male alcoholism rate of up to fifty percent.
2. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a strict, conservative, community-focused, and clean lifestyle with low-income and minority demographics. They’ve managed to thrive in Castro’s Cuba, the slums of Nassau, immigrant neighborhoods in the USA.
3. The Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel - New York Times
While they do get support from the state the article notes they require no drug-treatment programs, no juvenile delinquency program, no programs for AIDS or teen pregnancy and they are not clogging the court system with criminal cases
Critics point to some interesting qualifiers:
1. It's not just the individual who makes the difference.
Some religious communities support their more indigent members with in-kind services: education, family crisis support, temporary housing, early education, schools, scholarships, etc. Those who convert, therefore, might be lifted out of poverty just by material transfers from a religious community to its members.
A key factor then would be the communal culture not merely one's personal philosophy.
At the same, other critiques not that the character of the individual is a major factor because you can't just get anyone to behave this way.
2. The people who join and stay are not the average. They are people with a strong motivation.
3. The community kicks you out if you don't conform.
Comment: Many of the people in Kiryas Joel do not devote themselves to activity which is productive economically. Instead, they spend their days in religious studies.
In spite of this one can say that they do have a productive lifestyle. It just doesn't make money.
A better question would be: could the low-money, non-criminal culture remain alive without full-time study? My intuition says yes. This would also take them off the dole.
Even though they use this money well and behave in a productive manner, their resistance to work that pays and willingness to live off of others links them to other low-income communities.