Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wealth and Religiosity

One of the most interesting results from the PEW Global Attitudes Survey is the correlation between wealth and belief in God. As a general rule, the wealthier the nation the lower the religiosity—with two major outliers. Here's the chart that's invading the blogosphere.

Canada is the blue square that falls right on the line above Western Europe. As usual, Canadians are more religious than Western Europeans but less religious than Americans. The key question is why is America so different?

Many people have argued that there's no point in challenging religion in America because you are never going to change people's minds. According to them, Americans will always be religious and the "aggressive atheists" are wasting their time. I don't agree with this pessimistic outlook and, when I see charts like the one above, I tend to think that Americans may be near a tipping point where there might be large scale abandonment of religion with just a little nudge in the right direction.

On the other hand, maybe the poll results are deceptive. Maybe the US value for religiosity and wealth is an average of two distinct classes. One class could be economically disadvantaged (poor) but very religious. This would put them on the curve at the same place as, say, Mexico. The other class could be wealthy and less religious, ranking them closer to Western Europeans. Is that possible? If so, it may be harder to change the minds of the religious groups since they aren't seeing the benefits of American per capita GDP.


  1. I dunno, it seems to me there's lots of middle class suburbanites in those mega-churches. Fundamentalism may have come from the backwoods, but somewhere along the line it learned to market itself to the mainstream.

    However, you point is well-taken. The problem with whole-country statistics, especially when applied to a big diverse place like the US, is that they tend to hide a lot of that diversity. It would be interesting to see this broken down by economic class within the US.

  2. Fascinating stuff. America: a self selection effect resulting of the migration of hopeful new world puritans? Or is there some deep analogy with the 'Russell-hertzsprung' diagram in astronomy where super-giants buck the main sequence?

  3. So what model is behind the curve? It doesn't say, so I assume it is just sloppy graphics. 'Cause that curve, without figuring in outliers, population sizes or economical classes, trends to ~ 0 on religiosity score by eyeballing. :-P

    Which here doesn't mean that they are non-religious unfortunately (so I'm not going to spend effort on finding a good model), but that religion isn't important for their views:

    Religiosity is measured using a three-item index ranging from 0-3, with “3” representing the most religious position. Respondents were given a “1” if they believe faith in God is necessary for morality; a “1” [sic] if they say religion is very important in their lives; and a “1” [sic] if they pray at least once a day.

  4. The United States is too regionalized, thus using US as a whole tends to skew. You don't even need to break the US into economic classes, states would probably be enough.. lol

  5. What is with Saudi Arabia? While somewhat
    larger than Kuwait they should be also quite rich on average (if you don't count
    the foreign guest workers) and very

  6. I asked a religious chum online for his explanation of the trend. Here's his response:

    Rich people don't think they need God. They think they have everything they need.

    That's why Jesus said:

    Mark 10:25
    It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

  7. To stevef,

    About the comment made by Jesus, look into what it truly means because most people do not know what a needle means. Jesus wasn't talking about a knitting needle, he was talking about the small area within the walls of Jerusalem that were used to enter through at night.

    As for America's religiosity and wealth, I find that religiosity was one factor of many which made them so rich IE: Weber's Protestant Ethic.

    The American people have decided to stay religious, and I don't see anything wrong with that at all.

  8. "The American people have decided to stay religious, and I don't see anything wrong with that at all."

    Other than the extraordinary level of power concentrated into political lobbies supporting odious and often anti-scientific agendas (e.g., anti-evolution, anti-contraception, anti-ESCR, etc.), I agree. Religion in this country is no problem.