Field of Science

Religion makes people in poor countries (but not rich ones) happier

Gallup has released a new analysis looking at the relationship between happiness and religiosity in different countries around the world (the data come from their 143-nation survey they ran in 2007-8). What's interesting about this one is they selected out two groups: the very rich (mean incomes in excess of $25,000) and the very poor (mean incomes less than $2,000).

They found that the poor countries were very much more religious than the rich ones. In poor countries, 92% of people say religion is very important to them, but that drops to 44% in rich countries. No surprises there.

What's interesting, though, is the difference between the religious and non-religious in happiness. In rich countries, there's virtually no difference. In poor countries, the difference is striking. The two graphs I've pulled out show this.

The first is from the poor countries. Religious people enjoy life more, worry less, and experience less sadness, depression and anger.

The second is from rich countries. Not only has the difference disappeared, but religious people are in fact sadder and more depressed! That's a very surprising result, and might well be down to depressed people 'self-medicating' with religion.

I guess a lot of people won't be surprised by these findings. But they demonstrate nicely what's these days a fairly unfashionable idea in the sociology of religion. People sign up to religion because, if you're at the bottom of the heap, it makes you feel special.


  1. Notice also that enjoyment is higher for both religious and not religious among the richer people.

    All the negative factors decrease for the not religious group when they are richer, but not so for the religious groups. In other words, assuming that we should be unhappy when poor, religion makes you unable to assess reality properly.

    Which is a good thing for the rich people living among those very poor people.

  2. As Karl Marx said, religion is the opiate of the people. But then again, life in poor countries, as a poor person, might require opiates . . . or religion.

  3. Actually, the negative emotional states remain the same for religious people in both the poor and the rich nations. The only negative measure that goes up for the religious in the richer countries is worry, by 2 points. In terms of enjoyment, religious people still hold an advantage, albeit a slight one in richer countries. Perhaps this just says that if you only believe in a material world, it helps if you have more material wealth. It's better to be both rich and wealthy. And it sucks to be a materialist and poor.

  4. It should read Better to be both religious and wealthy."


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