World Prayer Behaviours – US an Exception for Wealthy Countries

World Prayer Behaviours – US an Exception for Wealthy Countries May 13, 2019

The Pew Research Center is always a source of good information about religion and religious habits around the world. One of their articles recently looked at survey and data collection that involve the prayer behaviour of religious people in various countries around the world.

As Pew report:

In every other wealthy country surveyed – that is, those with a per-capita GDP over $30,000 – fewer than 40% of adults say they pray every day. For example, in Japan, where per-capita GDP is about $38,000, roughly a third (33%) pray daily. In Norway, where per-capita GDP is about $68,000, fewer than one-in-five adults (18%) do. (It’s worth noting that the surveys did not include wealthy countries in the Arabian Peninsula, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which might be expected to have high levels of prayer.)

At the other end of the economic spectrum, countries with less wealth tend to have higher rates of prayer. In fact, every country where at least 70% of adults say that they pray each day has a per-capita GDP under $20,000. For example, in Egypt, where 72% say they pray every day, per-capita GDP is about $11,000. And in Afghanistan, where 96% of adults say they pray every day, the per-capita GDP is about $2,000.

These findings are broadly aligned with other data that suggest that a country’s level of wealth is inversely proportional to its levels of religious commitment as measured by survey responses about daily prayer, belief in God, attendance at religious services and stated importance of religion in one’s life. In other words, people in poorer countries tend to be more religious than people in wealthier countries. (For more on this, see our 2018 report.)

Of course, as with most data, there are outliers and exceptions to the rule. In the case of countries that have a low per capita GDP, Vietnam and Bulgaria have low prayer rates ($6,000 and $19,000, 14% and 15%). On the other hand, America has a high GDP and a high prayer rate ($56,000 per-capita GDP in 2015 and 55%, the latter according to the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study).

The question is, why is America an outlier? One of the best theories is that, although the US has a high GDP per capita, this is skewed very much by the super-rich. This takes a mean average as opposed to a median average. In reality, income inequality is very high in the US. It turns out that a better measure of religiosity and prayer appears to be income inequality as opposed to mean average GDP.

In tomorrow’s piece, I will look a little further at income, income inequality, education and other variables involved in religious commitment.


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