Too much religion is bad for your wealth

Too much religion is bad for your wealth April 22, 2008

Conservative Protestants (AKA fundamentalists) in the US are poorer, on average, than the rest of the population. Lisa Keister, Professor of Sociology at Duke University, has delved into the stats to find out why. Handily, she’s also dug up some titbits about humanists as well.

Turns out that part of the difference can be explained by the effects of their religion on their ability to earn. Conservative Protestants:

  • Are poorly educated. This is because their beliefs don’t fit with mainstream education, and so they home school instead. They also ‘follow advice from church leaders who discourage attendance at secular colleges and universities’ (again, to stop their children from being exposed to alternative ideas).
  • Have more children, and younger. Early reproduction further limits the opportunities for education and career development, and also means they have less to invest. Interestingly, wealth increases in families with one or two children (because it motivates people to invest for the future) but decreases with more.
  • Have stay-at-home mums. They are more likely to be single-earner households, especially when the children are young.

These factors account for some – but not all – of the relative poverty of the Conservative Protestants. Just what it is that accounts for the rest of the difference is unknown, but Prof Keister shows that they have a range of beliefs that might explain it. They think that money is the root of all evil, and that wealth prevents you from knowing god. They claim to give more away in charity, and they also think that their god will provide – and so there’s no need to save for retirement or a rainy day.

So much for the fundamentalists. What about the rest of us? Well, compared with mainstream Protestants and Catholics, Jews accumulate wealth faster and end up richer. But people with other religion or with no religion (that’s us Humanists!) well, they’re about the same.

Religious leaders are fond of lecturing us on the perils of secularism – in particular that it brings with it materialism and selfish greed. This study is yet more evidence that they’re wrong. For better or worse, Humanists have similar material values to ‘normal’ Catholics and Protestants.

Keister, L. (2008). Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty. American Journal of Sociology, 113(5), 1237-1271. DOI: 10.1086/525506

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