The Almighty God Dollar

It's True: Churchgoers Are Wealthier

from Christian Science Monitor

Can religion fatten your pocketbook? Sunday morning TV evangelists sometimes assert that God will financially help those who pray to Him. Some of the rich believe their prosperity is a sign of God's grace.

Now an economist has found a statistical correlation between attending church (or temple or mosque) and a "better economic outcome."

On average, his paper notes, a household with double the rate of religious attendance as another household has 9.1 percent more income. That extra participation in religious activity correlates with 16 percent less welfare participation than the usual rate, 4 percent lower odds of being divorced and 4.4 percent increased chances of being married.

The paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, does not investigate whether religiosity creates these results. Its author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber, says he's "not validating" that God has anything to do with the extra prosperity. "I can't dispute it either," Gruber added.

Gruber speculates that the link between religious attendance and greater prosperity may stem from four factors. One is that going to religious services provides more social interactions and thus more useful connections. (One statistical basis for his paper hangs on "religious market density," a tendency for people of the same faith to live in the same areas — Catholics with Catholics, Jews with Jews, etc.)

Another factor could be more attendance at religious schools of the children of highly religious families. That could provide better schooling or contacts for adult life.

Or, Gruber continues, it could be that those "with more faith may be less stressed out about daily problems that impede success in the labor market and the marriage market, and are therefore more successful."

A fourth factor may be that church attendance can offer forms of financial and emotional insurance. Many churches and other religious groups provide charity (clothes, food, money) to members in trouble, as well as the comfort of visits, consolation, advice, and so on, that can revive a troubled family.

The Bible quotes Jesus as saying that "your Father knoweth ye have need of these things." Economists neither deny or affirm that God helps out. To them, the added well-being of the religious may be merely a social phenomenon — or not.


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