Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GOD AND MAMMON, U.S. VERSION....A couple of weeks ago I posted a chart from a Pew global survey showing that the more religious a country is, the poorer it is. Is the same true for U.S. states? Andrew Gelman of Columbia University crunched some numbers and says the answer is yes. His data is at the right, along with an eyeball trendline that I tossed in on a whim. (In other words, don't blame him for the trendline. He just plotted the data.)

Interestingly, there appears to be no correlation between income and religiosity within states. Religious states are less wealthy in aggregate, but within each state rich people are no more or less likely to be religious than poorer people. Make of this what you will.

Kevin Drum 8:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Are we adjusting for cost of living at all here? And is this per-capita income, median household income or what? If it's the former, that's going to kill Utah in particular because families there are so huge, but in terms of standard of living Utah's one of the best bargains going. (If you can live with Mormons, anyway.)

There's seriously a mess of endogeneity issues here, and the original blog post doesn't do a great job of explaining them.

Posted by: Pete on November 4, 2007 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

It just means there are too many religious people in total, so it makes sense that the same number of wealthy or poor would be religious and that means nothing, Just means the state has too many damned dark-age craving religious nuts.

CT and MA are vary Catholic states, yet they are therichest. Guess being Catholic is not like being actually religious!

Posted by: lilybart on November 4, 2007 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like pie-charts in the sky, to me.

Posted by: Kenji on November 4, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

As usual, Alabama can still feel superior...to Mississippi.

Posted by: jimbo on November 4, 2007 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

So on the micro scale, individual financial success is not correlated with religion, but on a macro scale regions that have high concentrations of religious people tend to be poorer. That seems reasonable to me.

In other words, religion does not predict wealth on the individual scale (people don't take religiosity into account when they make financial transactions). But poor areas tend to have more religious people, which has been observed before and Kevin has blogged about.

Posted by: Ruck on November 4, 2007 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

I think you got the causal relation wrong.

I would like to see the same graph with respect to the states and education level.

Then, I would like to see a graph that correlates education to income and another with education to religion.

I am guessing educational level is the magic variable here and that religion and income stem from it. I.e. I am guessing income and religion are directly tied to education, but income and religion are not directly tied to each other.

Posted by: Mark on November 4, 2007 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

In many respects,including voting, there's still two Souths, one black and the other white. The whites might not be too much more badly-educated than people in most of the rest of the US.

On the other hand, N.J., Conn. and Mass. really do seem to be stuffed with overachievers.

Posted by: David Martin on November 4, 2007 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

Race/ethnicity relationship with religion and income likely messes up any conclusions from this graph.

Posted by: Panjack on November 4, 2007 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does religion restrict economic growth, or does hardship create fertile ground for religion? (i tend to think the latter)

Posted by: Northzax on November 4, 2007 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: you have it wrong.
copy and paste straight form the Gelman's post

: To put it another way, in Mississippi, the richer people attend church more. In Connecticut, the richer people attend church less.

Posted by: Jor on November 4, 2007 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

The only clear, meaningful relationship I can see here is that states that *happen* to have higher population density (on the right side) have higher average income than states with lower population density (on the left side). That's it. Not much here to get excited about, sorry.

However... It MIGHT be FAR more meaningful to check this out:

1) Divide the entire US population (REGARDLESS of the STATE, etc., they happen to live in) up into say 10 ranges of population density-an equal amount of folks (30mil +/-) belong to each of these ten slices of population density ranges.

2) THEN... Ask your "religiosity" questions and plot those "scores" for people in each of those ten slices of population density and look at the relationships.

My guess is that you will see a far more robust correlation between population density and "religiosity". My proposition: People that live in high population density areas are less religious than people who live in low population density areas regardless of income or state they inhabit. Anything that deviates from THAT model would be worthy of investigation...

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 4, 2007 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

What would be worthy of study is why there is religion at all. It clearly does no good for the people who believe in it. They still go to jail, get sick, die, go broke, and have children named Bubba.

Posted by: craigie on November 4, 2007 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Hey there on November 4, 2007 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

"Religious states are less wealthy in aggregate, but within each state rich people are no more or less likely to be religious than poorer people. Make of this what you will."

That kind of sounds as though non-religious states have more rich people. Or, religious states have fewer rich people. However you prefer to look at it.

Posted by: cowalker on November 5, 2007 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

What's most interesting to me is that the rightmost (wealthiest) fringes of the red states are all the battlegrounds of '08: Colorado. Virginia. Nevada. Florida. Ohio. Turn those blue, and you've got a pretty amazing bimodal distribution.

I did a similar analysis about net taxation ( = wealth) around the '04 election on Onotech entitled "Divided States: Givers for Kerry, Takers for Bush" It, too, is a pretty impressive bimodal graph.

Posted by: Ethan Stock on November 5, 2007 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

Just common sense. There are no atheists in the poorhouse.

Posted by: Luther on November 5, 2007 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK
CT and MA are vary Catholic states, yet they are the richest. Guess being Catholic is not like being actually religious!

Sorry lilybart - there are as many Unitarian churches in MA as Catholic, possibly more, and they're much older.

Posted by: kengaw on November 5, 2007 at 7:37 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe rich people just have better things to do on Sunday mornings.

Posted by: anon on November 5, 2007 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

“Being unable to reason is not a positive character trait outside religion” - Dewey Henize

Posted by: MsNThrope on November 5, 2007 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

I think it may be more accurate to say the poorer a state is, the more religious, rather than the other way around. And as a Unitarian, I'd have to say kengaw is being a bit misleading - there are 250k Unitarians in the entire country, and MA is about 70% Catholic. There are a lot of UU churches in New England, but they are all VERY small.

Posted by: Dave on November 5, 2007 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

You can also just think of religion as a generalized drain on economic activity, which would tend to depress local wealth. Remember that people donate tens of billions of dollars to churches and other religious organizations every year, and billions more in free labor. If those donated resources aren't encouraging economic activity or providing useful services (that wouldn't be provided otherwise) then the result is a smaller local economy.

(On the other hand, if the religious infrastructure is providing useful services efficiently, what you have instead is a measurement problem, and a suggestion that it's possible to attain a roughly equivalent standard of living for less money when there are lots of churches around. We see this kind of argument on the secular side when people claim that scandinavian countries have lower personal incomes than the US while ignoring the value of their social services and universal education.)

Posted by: paul on November 5, 2007 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

Religion is either cultural (you were just raised to believe it because of your family/community and it is just what you know, it's just "the way things are") or psychological (something is missing in your life, some sort of gap you need to fill, or comfort, belief, or faith that you "need" in order to feel whole) and you find it in later life, or become "saved" to fill a psychological need. A large enough number of poor people either come from religious communities (the "bible belt" for example) or have needs and are turning to "God" to fill that need (you hear them speak of the mansion that God will give them in heaven, etc...) that the concentration of poor zealots is high enough to skew the statistics. As far as the correlation to rich Catholics, as someone raised Catholic, it's just something you were raised to do, so you follow along unquestioningly because you are just comfortable with the way things are or so as not to disappoint your family (which normally extends all the way to your Great-grandparents - the Catholic church makes you promise to raise your kids Catholic when you get married).

Posted by: Missy on November 5, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

This reminds me of a study on Democracy in Italy by Putnam. Italy also exhibits distinct differences from north and south. Generally, northern Italy tends to have stronger and more effective government institutions and democratic processes than the south. Putnam found that a key difference is that in the north there is a tradition of civic engagement and public participation in democratic processes and decision making. In the south the "Patron" system is the model - the powerful one - that everyone seeks favors from. The north is more effective and richer. Is their a correlation with submission to religious ideology and a Patron? Yes - reason is replaced with ideology.

Posted by: ChasTweed on November 5, 2007 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

As long as we're piling on here; seriously, get rid of the trend line I know you just eyeballed it in but I really don't think it's justified by the data. I don't do statistics on these sort of data but maybe what we need here is some sort of Discriminant Function Analysis??


Posted by: Paleoprof on November 5, 2007 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Churches fulfill different cultural needs. If you live in a wealthy suburb in the Northeast, no one will complain if you go to a religious service regularly, but it won't cost you your job or your customers if you don't. In small cities in the South, you might not care about religion at all, but social pressure and economic necessity may keep you showing up on Sundays -- and may become another power base that you can use.

Posted by: freelunch on November 5, 2007 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

freelunch, good point. That happens to fit in with my theory that religiosity is inversely related to population density. Higher population densities would give an individual on average more *anonymity*. Lower population densities would give you less *anonymity*. There could be more peer/community pressure to attend.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 5, 2007 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

The Right Righteous Rev drives a Caddy...while, paritioners walk to church. Don't playa hate Kevin...that's just good marketing. god bless (small "g" intentional)

Posted by: Jim Jones on November 5, 2007 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

The previous version had a linear relationship but your trend line is curvilinear. Which is right (which fits better)?

Actually, the best fit is the Laffer curve, which shows that if you actually go to church less, your wealth will increase.

Posted by: AJ on November 5, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

I came across the referenced article in Journal of Religion & Society and it really made me sit up. It goes much further than the Pew survey.
see: http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

Posted by: Headhunter on November 5, 2007 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK
His data is at the right, along with an eyeball trendline that I tossed in on a whim.

Eyeball "trendlines" aren't trendlines, and are, at best, a waste of time, and at worst a deliberate and dishonest propaganda effort. This seems to be more the former than the latter, but why bother with it even then? If you've got the data, its not hard to plot a real trendline, there is no excuse for fakery.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 5, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK



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