Saturday, 1 November 2008

Religion Impacts Size of Wallet

A study of religious affiliations finds some denominations are richer.

Christian fundamentalists may be at a disadvantage when it comes to cash. A study found a strong link between religious affiliation and wealth in the U.S., with Jews earning the most, and conservative Protestants the least.

Lisa Keister, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, analyzed longitudinal surveys of nearly 5,000 Americans. She found the median net worth of Jewish participants to be $150,890. Conservative Protestants—including Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Scientists—were worth an average of $26,200. Catholics and mainstream Protestants—including Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Unitarians and others—fell in between at about $60,000.

Keister explained the connection between faith and pocketbook by pointing to the role that religion plays in the family. "Families have a big impact on future wealth accumulation, and religion is a big part of family life," says Keister. The study took into account age, education, race and other factors that influence wealth, such as inheritance.

Why were Jews worth so much more, on average? For one, Jewish participants were much more likely to invest in financial versus real assets, meaning stocks and bonds instead of houses. They also began investing much earlier than non-Jews. A strong emphasis on education and good financial habits in Jewish homes contributes, as well as more and better opportunities to increase "social capital."

Keister speculates that conservative Protestants, in contrast, are more interested in the afterlife than in achieving success in this world. Higher fertility rates and hostility toward formal education could also work against their bank accounts. A literalist interpretation of the Bible may also discourage the accumulation of wealth.

Keister does not think the study promotes anti-Semitic stereotypes; rather, she believes that the research provides lessons that could lessen differences between groups. And they don't involve religious conversion. "If we can teach people the basics of saving and saving early, we could improve their well-being," she says.

The study was published in Social Forces.

Psychology Today Magazine, Sep/Oct 2003
Last Reviewed 14 Oct 2008
Article ID: 3014

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