Religion and Poverty?
“A match made in heaven, or more accurately hell.”
To demonstrate this here are three things. One, there is a correlation between poverty and religiosity. Two, there is a correlation between wealth and secularism. Third, both of these trends exist within the United States and globally.
• A 2013 Gallup poll asked Americans about their religious beliefs. Here are the ten states with the highest percentage of “very religious” responses along with their per capita income.
• Per capita income (rank) • 1. Mississippi–58% – $19,977 (50th)
• 2. Utah–56% – 23,139 (41st)
• 2. Alabama–56% – 22,984 (44th)
• 4. Louisiana–53% – 23,094 (42nd)
• 5. Arkansas 52% – 21,724 (48th)
• 5. South Carolina–52% – 23,433 (40th)
• 6. Tennessee- 50% – 23,722 (39th)
• 6. North Carolina–50% – 24,745 (34th)
• 7. Georgia–48% – 25,134 (30th)
• 7. Oklahoma–48% – 23,094 (43rd)
• All of these states are concentrated in the south with the exception of Utah, which has a large Mormon population. Mississippi ranks as both the poorest and the most religious state. There is also considerable overlap between the ten poorest and the ten most religious states. Among the most religious only Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina avoided being in the ten poorest states.
Now let’s look at the ten most secular states on the same Gallup poll.
Least religious states: Per capita income (rank)
• Vermont 19% $27,589 19th
• New Hampshire 23% $31,422 6th
• Maine 24% $25,385 27th
• Massachusetts 27% $33,966 4th
• Rhode Island 29% $28,807 16th
• Oregon 29% $26,171 23rd
• D.C 30% $42,078 1st
• Nevada 31% $ 27,589 18th
• Connecticut 31% $34,849 3rd
• Washington 31% $29,733 10th
The ten most secular states are on the coasts. Washington and Oregon border the Pacific Ocean and seven other states are on the east coast. Nevada is the exception to this and is the home of Las Vegas – sin city. (Maybe the gambling and prostitution repels the religious or attracts the unbelievers.) There is significant overlap between the wealthiest and the most secular states. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, D.C., Connecticut and Washington would make it into the top 10 of both. Maine is the poorest of the most secular states, it ranks 27th on income. Maine still places above Georgia, which was the richest of the most religious states (30th on income.) The trend is clear; within the United States religion correlates with poverty and wealth correlates with secularism. Correlation does not equal causation however. Money won’t cause someone or something to turn godless. If that were the case the Vatican would be one of the most secular institutions on the planet.
Let’s look at some global examples. Here are the most religious countries according to a 2009 Gallup poll. 95-100% of people surveyed in each on of these countries stated that religion was important in their daily life.
• GDP per capita HDI Rank
• Niger $399 .295 186th
• Bangladesh $923.95 .515 145th
• Indonesia $3,816.8 .629 121st
• Sri Lanka $3,139 .715 92nd
• D.R. of Congo $236 .304 186th
• Malawi $253 .493 171st
• Morocco $3,260 .591 130th
• Djibouti $1,522 .430 165th
• Sierra Leone $613 .336 180th
• Egypt $3,146 .644 133th
• Afghanistan $621 .398 172nd
• All of these countries are either African or Asian. They are among the poorest and least developed countries in the world. In short, they are terrible places to live. Several of the countries have median incomes of just a few hundred dollars a year. Malawi and Congo average under a dollar a day. Sri Lanka is doing the best on this last with an HDI rank of 92nd, none of the other states break the top 100.
Now let’s look at the most secular countries according to the same Gallup poll.
2009 Gallup poll of most secular countries: (% indicates rate of people saying religion is important in daily life)
• HDI GDP Per capita HDI Rank
• 1. Sweden 16.5% .916 $56,956 8th
• 2. Denmark 18% .901 $56,202 15th
• 3. Estonia 16% .846 $16,319 33rd
• 4.Norway 20.5% .955 $97,254 1st
• 5. Hong Kong 23% .906 $34,049 13th
• 6. Japan 23.5% .912 $46,726 10th
• 7. Czech Republic 20.5% .873 $18,579 28th
• 8. United Kingdom 26.5% .875 $38,591 26th
• 9. Finland 28% .892 $46,098 21st
• 10. France 29.5% .893 $41,141 20th
• United States 65% .937 $49,922 3rd
All of the most secular states are European with the East Asian exceptions of Japan and Hong Kong. These secular countries are the wealthiest and most developed in the entire world, these are the best places to live. Norway has the best HDI ranking in the world and Japan and Sweden also make the top 10. Estonia is doing the worst of all the secular states and it still ranks 27th, over 60 places ahead of Sri Lanka, the best of the religious states. I included the United States at the bottom of the lists to show what an outlier it is. The US is undeniably a great place to live – it ranks 3rd on the HDI but it is uniquely religious. Two thirds of Americans said religion is important in daily life.
In conclusion
There is strong correlation between poverty and religion. There is strong correlation between wealth and secularism. Both trends exist on a global scale and within the United States.