Wealth & Religiosity

You can find some sweet information out there on the interwebs. At Alas, a blog, one of my fave blogs, I came upon the following graphs. And I do love me some good graphs.

World Wealth & Religiosity

Commentary from the source of this graph, the Pew Global Attitudes Project:

The survey finds a strong relationship between a country’s religiosity and its economic status. In poorer nations, religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.1 This relationship generally is consistent across regions and countries, although there are some exceptions, including most notably the United States, which is a much more religious country than its level of prosperity would indicate. Other nations deviate from the pattern as well, including the oil-rich, predominantly Muslim — and very religious — kingdom of Kuwait.

And some similar research on the US from Columbia University:

US wealth & Religiosity

States that voted for Bush in 2004 are in red and the Kerry-supporting states are blue. You can see that people in richer states tend to be less religious, although the relation is far from a straight line. There is also some regional variation (more religious attendance in the south, less in the northeast and west).

Before leaping to conclusions, we must remember that this data only expresses correlation, not causation. Even so, I am intrigued by interpreting what this all means. What is it about high religiosity that pairs it so often with poverty? Are those with low quality of life more likely to turn to religion as a consolation, or does a high level of religiosity in a society somehow impede its ability to maintain a strong economy and stable society?



7 thoughts on “Wealth & Religiosity

  1. I would say that the poorer nations have a higher number of religious people because they’ve been the beneficiaries of religion-sponsored charitable organizations – missionaries with food – for a long time.

    Also, the West – America and Europe – have had a decline in religiousness and a decline in wealth. This is probably not correlative, but does raise some interesting thoughts.

  2. @ Jonolan:

    Per your first point, can you provide links or any other evidence backing that up? I’ve never heard that before, so I’d like to check it out.

    Your second point is really unclear to me. America has experienced an increase in religiosity. Also, North American and Europe countries make up most of the wealthiest nations in the world, as the first graph indicates. 15 of the worlds 20 richest countries are located on these two continents. So how does your statement make sense?

  3. I can’t pick out either of my homestates on the lower map (KS/MO), but I think that’s because they overlap in that red cluster right around the 0.0-0.0 point.

    I have no evidence offhand, but it strikes me as a frequent phenomenon that those in poverty turn to religion more often or value it more highly than those without as great of struggles. I’d be surprised if being religious caused people to be poor, but as your commentary notes, this is just as likely an option as what I just proposed as far as what we can know from the graphs.

    I should point out, though, that some religions do look down on accumulating gross wealth. Strict Buddhists or Christians who follow certain parts of the Bible may find themselves in poverty purely by choice. However, these people are something of an exception, I would think.

  4. You’ve never heard about several centuries of missionary work in poor countries, normally involving humanitarian aid combined with sermons? Think about it. Think about it.

    AS for the supposed increase in religiosity in the US, WTF? Inthe past 50 years or so, the US and Europe have both experienced as of secularism, not religion. We’ve also suffered a recent decline in our economies – one that actually started some decades ago.

  5. this might be a case of spurious correlation. While there is a correlation between the two, it isn’t hard to imagine a third factor that might be causing both….say something such as liberal education. There is a strong correlation between a countries educational level and its overal GDP, life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, etc. It isn’t so far fetched that the same liberal education, one that has a strong science component, would have a lowering effect on overall religiosity.

  6. Back @ jonolan:

    Of course I’m familiar with missionaries. I hadn’t heard of that theory to explain the poverty of countries that are highly religious. But as a mull it over, you do have a point- missionaries are often the shock troops for colonialism… and there are few countries save America that are developed and enjoying a high standard of living post European colonization.

    I don’t believe that missionaries accustoming local populations to “entitlements” is the reason for their poverty, however.

    Here’s a Pew study that contradicts your assertion about American religiosity… if you have contrary information, please feel free to present it. I agree that studies show Europe, on the other hand, has experienced a decrease in religiosity.

    And here’sa graph that demonstrates that America’s GDP has done nothing but increase since 1947. Could you tell me where you get your information that we’ve actually been in a decline for decades? I have never seen any information that would confirm that.

    @ chris:

    I agree, and pointed out in the post, that this only displays a correlation and that causation is not proved. However, the commentary to the first graph does state clearly that it is a strong correlation, which says to me that the two variables, wealth and religiosity, have some sort of relationship to each other, even if there are other mitigating factors also involved. What these graphs don’t tell us is what that relationship might be.

    BTW, thanks for the rigorous discussion!

  7. idyllicmollusk,

    I was trying to say that the Churches went to the poorer countries and helped keep people alive and maybe to better themselves, but the “price tag” was exposure to Western Religions. As the children were exposed or indoctrinated the religiousness of the countries increased. Like all charities, the missionaries couldn’t fix the underlying problems so the countries remained poor.

    I admit that US CDP is steadily climbing, but other economic indicators – especially mean average income vs. mean average living expenses has been slowly falling. Think of it as applied economy as opposed to theoretical economy.

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