Field of Science

Prosperity and Unbelief: A benign circle?

A new article in The Atlantic draws attention to research by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2007. This research shows a strong negative correlation between GDP per head and religiosity, ie the most religious countries are the poorest. (Except for the USA and Kuwait!)

The author argues that increasing income reduces religious commitment - and even quotes John Wesley in support! That's very plausible. But it's also likely that religiosity depresses income through its hostility to this world and resistance to innovation and critical thought. Indeed, both may be true - a positive feedback loop.

To test this we'd need to track wealth and religiosity over several decades. I wonder if anyone has done so.

1 comment:

  1. Weber's classic 1905 thesis proposed that the protestant work ethic spurred economic growth. There have been several studies that have found that religiosity increases GDP growth (e.g. Religion and Economic Growth across Countries, Barro 2003). These sorts of studies are hampered by the fact that they usually compare low growth Europe with high growth USA.

    The link between GDP and religiosity is most likely stress-related. Wealthier individuals are more cushioned from disaster, so have less to worry about (income inequality adds to the stress though - so countries like the US which emphasise individualism and not helping those who fail have high religiosity despite high GDP). See Norris 2004 on secularization.

    Religiosity is inversely correlated with the size of the welfare state. A study just out this week shows that getting religion makes you happy. So emphasizing that one of the main reasons people turn to religion is if they are unhappy.

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