Religious Commitment, Education, Age, Income & Security

Religious Commitment, Education, Age, Income & Security May 14, 2019

Yesterday, I wrote a piece reporting on some research done by the Pew Research Center on the prayer behaviour of people from various countries around the world. I then commented and linked other research talking about religiosity and its connection to GDP and income inequality. I will continue this today.

Not only is GDP and income and important variable to religiosity, but education plays a vital part. Indeed, as you may guess, education and GDP are inextricably linked. Countries with a greater welfare state and GDP are far more likely to have better education systems.

As Pew report elsewhere on this:

Religious commitment is lower in countries with higher education, higher GDP and greater income equality

Several measures besides life expectancy at birth can be used to measure existential security within countries. For example, education is a common proxy for prosperity and development. Plotting the average number of years of formal schooling adults have completed in each country alongside the share of adults who attend religious services at least weekly shows that more education is associated with less frequent religious service attendance. Indeed, most countries in sub-Saharan Africa have high percentages of adults attending religious services weekly and relatively few years of completed schooling, on average. Conversely, European countries tend to have lower rates of weekly attendance and more years of schooling….

Finally, it also appears that economic inequality is correlated with higher levels of religious commitment. Societies with very unequal distribution of income tend to be more religious, while those who live in relatively egalitarian societies say religion is less important, on average. (This is measured by a country’s Gini coefficient, the most common measure of income inequality.11)

Overall, regardless of how religious commitment or prosperity are measured, the general pattern holds: Religious commitment is lower in places where life is easier. And in places where life is steadily becoming easier, the theory goes, younger adults generally are less religious than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

There are regional groupings that also emerge. Sub-Saharan Africa has an overwhelming majority of countries with a very low GDP threshold but has very high levels of prayer. On the other hand, Europe has very high levels of GDP and very low levels of prayer, comparatively speaking. The only exception to this is Moldova that has a very low GDP and an above average rate of prayer.

Another exception to this is Israel, which is in the North Africa-Middle East region. It has fewer than 50% of its population playing daily.

Falling into the ” existential security” argument, it appears that older populations also become more religious. As Pew continues:

Research has shown that religious attachments tend to peak during adolescence, decline through young and middle adulthood, and then increase through most of late adulthood. For instance, Pew Research Center’s analysis of Gallup poll data suggests that U.S. adults born in the 1930s attended worship more frequently once they reached their 60s. Other longitudinal studies (which surveyed the same people at intervals over decades) find a “retirement surge” in religiosity among older people. While not ruling out the influence of other factors – such as when and where people live – one research team argued that “life course trajectories may trump generational placement as predictors of religious behaviors and orientations.”12

This could be as a result of what economists call “profit motive”, whereby people go to stages in their lives where money becomes an overriding desire and motivation. But when there isn’t this economic motivation, some kind of existential desire takes its place. In later years, pats when one is retired, this “religious capital” is drawn from.

There are some psychological theories that also posit:

…that people actually develop new values during life’s later decades, distinct from the values of midlife, leading to greater spirituality and satisfaction. 14 This theory of “gerotranscendence” is based on survey research showing that many older people report being less self-centered than they were previously, as well as feeling more connected to others and institutions beyond themselves.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many longitudinal studies investigate whether it is universally the case that younger people are less religious than older people. However, there have been decades of studies in the United States. There is data suggest that younger people haven’t always been less religious than older people in America, which puts a spanner in the works as to the claim that religion is explicitly and exclusively natural, without environmental causality. That said, it is a nearly ubiquitous trend and the gap appears to be getting greater between the young and old:

That trend for the 1950s is reflected in attendance for worship, as well.

As it stands at the moment (2008-2017), the young are less religious than the old all around the world by several measures. However, as we saw in the previous post, this trend is far less pronounced in the Middle East-North Africa region and sub-Saharan Africa.

Not wanting to make this post too long, I will look a little bit at age and religiosity in further depth in the next post.



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