Make money first, then find your church

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMay 18, 2011 8:42 AM


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The New York Times has a weird article up, Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?, which digests the Pew Religious Landscape Survey descriptive statistics on the demographics of American religious denominations. It's kind of a strange piece because the basic correlations have long been known. The traditional rank order in the "Social Register" way of looking at it would have been Episcopalian > Presbyterian > Methodist > Baptist. The article itself is frankly kind of embarrassing in a 10th grade paper sort of way. For example, "That stands in contrast to the long history, made famous by Max Weber, of Protestant nations generally being richer than Catholic nations." I think this sort of fact should be introduced very carefully to the general audience. One can posit plausible explanations for why staunchly Catholic Bavaria is one of Germany's most affluent states, or why it is that Protestantism is much more popular among lower class Chileans, and still maintain a Webberian model, but that obviously isn't possible in a newspaper article. But these realities are often totally surprising to people who aren't too "information rich," but who have heard of Webber's thesis at some point. And let's not get into the specific point that Webber was focusing on Calvinist Protestants in particular, rather than Protestants more generally! I probably am on the skeptical side of when it comes to evaluating the core thesis of the Protestant ethic, but that's neither here nor there. The piece could have addressed some serious possibilities of the correlation between particular denominations and wealth being due to a "virtuous circle" or some sort. For example, Episcopalians and Jews using their religious institutions as important social networks for career advancement and prudent investment tips and advice (don't tell that to members of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue!). In the town where I grew up it was rather clear that particular types of service professionals whose business was built around rapport and trust, such as insurance salesmen, benefited if they were members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, which provided a relatively large built-in local client base. A few interesting demographic breakdowns within a religious group which might invite a lot of explanation occurs with Jews. The following comes from the American Jewish Identity Survey 2001. There are three classes of Jews in this: Jews by religion, Jews with no religion, and Jews with another religion. The majority of the last were Christians.

Jews by religionJews of no religionJews of other religions

% Married594559

% College Graduates585736

% Republican131340

Median household income$72,000$58,000$54,000

I'm particularly struck by the lower incomes and educational qualifications, and greater political conservatism, of Jews with "other religions." This group is explicitly defined as "Of Jewish Parentage & Now of Other Religion," but the majority seem to be the products of intermarriage (so therefore likely with the American religious majority, Christians). The sample size is small and there aren't any crosstabs, but a minority of this class have two Jewish parents, so either their parents converted or they converted. This class would be particular informative for a "chicken & egg" analysis. Finally, I want to leave you with some raw data. Below are the demographic profiles from the General Social Survey for religious and denominational groups limited to non-Hispanic whites only from the year 2000 on. The educational attainment proportions are self-evident. The vocab scores I amalgamated a bit. Dull = 0-4, Average = 5-8, and Smart = 9-10. In other words, smart individuals obtained 9 or 10 out of 10 on a vocabulary test. The income threshold is low, but that's the GSS, not me. Finally there's something called the "socioeconomic index." It combines various metrics such as educational, professional, and monetary status into one statistic. The higher the value, the higher status. I've given you mean values for each class. In general I've omitted cells where the N < 100. I labeled people who knew they were Methodist, not which type of Methodist (e.g., Free vs. United Methodist), as "generic." Finally, all columns except the last are percentages. The the cells across the row add up to 100% for each category (so if you it that 54 percent out of 100 percent of Catholics have a high school diploma only).

Non-Hispanic Whites Only

Highest educational attainmentVocab score

< HSHSAssociatesBachelorGradDullAverageSmart> $25,000Mean SEI




No Religion1150720121265227052

American Baptist18628842771247

Southern Baptist16579134227267047

Baptist, Other205851356447

Baptist, Generic2459863266956443

United Methodist750725111374137754

Methodist, Generic176071076746

American Lutheran855151767650

Lutheran, Missouri Synod849923107553

Lutheran, Generic115991757250

Presbyterian, Generic3541121127853


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