The Connection Between a Country’s Wealth and Its Religiosity

Are religious countries more likely to be poor? Are richer countries less likely to be religious?

We may not be able to tell cause-and-effect here, but there does appear to be a remarkable correlation between the two, according to researcher Gregory Paul

“The correlation between religiosity and successful societies is somewhere around 0.7. Zero is no correlation and one is a perfect correlation, so it’s a really good correlation, and it’s not just an accident,” he told CBC News.

“There’s no situation where you have a really highly religious nation that’s highly successful socially.”

Paul’s intention in creating the scale was to challenge the idea that religion is universal and innate to the human condition, and to show that societies that don’t believe in God are not doomed, as some religious conservatives would have people believe.

If you want to accept this hypothesis, it’s easy for atheists to gloat: We’re richer, and therefore more educated, and therefore less religious. And there’s something to that. The countries with the highest religiosity are not exactly known for their high standards of education — where religion reigns supreme, access to information is hard to come by.

Though, to be fair, the United States is one of the wealthier countries that also has relatively high religiosity (60% have no doubt God exists), making it an outlier among the other data points:

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman also rains on the parade, but with good reason:

… it’s more than just an accumulation of wealth that makes a country more secular, sociologists say.

“The United States is one of the wealthier societies, and yet, it’s still quite religious,” said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who has studied secularization in Scandinavian countries and wrote a book about it called Society Without God.

“I think it’s when you have what we might call ‘existential security’ — so, wealth and prosperity are part of that, but by that we [also] mean the bulk of people in society have access to housing, health care, jobs. They live in a relatively stable, democratic society without much in the way of existential threats to their lives or their culture.”

So while the correlation is there, it wouldn’t be right to suggest wealth leads to secularism or religion leads to poverty. There are a lot of factors at play here and we’re only looking at two of them in isolation.

(Thanks to Kirby for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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