Religion makes people in poor countries (but not rich ones) happier

Religion makes people in poor countries (but not rich ones) happier March 9, 2009

Gallup has released a new analysis looking at the relationship between happiness and religiosity in different countries around the world (the data come from their 143-nation survey they ran in 2007-8). What’s interesting about this one is they selected out two groups: the very rich (mean incomes in excess of $25,000) and the very poor (mean incomes less than $2,000).

They found that the poor countries were very much more religious than the rich ones. In poor countries, 92% of people say religion is very important to them, but that drops to 44% in rich countries. No surprises there.

What’s interesting, though, is the difference between the religious and non-religious in happiness. In rich countries, there’s virtually no difference. In poor countries, the difference is striking. The two graphs I’ve pulled out show this.

The first is from the poor countries. Religious people enjoy life more, worry less, and experience less sadness, depression and anger.

The second is from rich countries. Not only has the difference disappeared, but religious people are in fact sadder and more depressed! That’s a very surprising result, and might well be down to depressed people ‘self-medicating’ with religion.

I guess a lot of people won’t be surprised by these findings. But they demonstrate nicely what’s these days a fairly unfashionable idea in the sociology of religion. People sign up to religion because, if you’re at the bottom of the heap, it makes you feel special.

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