December 1, 2023

Economix: The Economics of a Vengeful Deity

Naomi Schaefer Riley continues the discussion of religion and income at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog:

[A] religion’s view of education affect one’s education and therefore one’s income….

It’s not that one religion mandates a college education and another one suggests only high school. Sometimes religious leaders do talk about such issues. But it goes back even further than that. Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses and some other fundamentalist Protestants (not evangelicals generally, mind you) have a more apocalyptic view of the world. That is, they think the end may be coming soon and so planning for the future (through education, savings, etc.) seems less important.

In their book, “America’s Four Gods,” Paul Froese and Christopher Bader write about the effect that people’s view of the divine has on their financial prospects. Americans, in the authors’ view, are divided into people who view God as an active or inactive presence and as either a benevolent or vengeful God. People who view God as both active and mean often have lower incomes. It’s a little hard to separate the cause and effect here. Do you believe God has it in for you because you have a low income or do you have a low income because you don’t believe you have much chance of doing well in this lifetime[?]

Two other small points about our chart on religion, education and income:

First, several readers have asked why we did not include Orthodox Jews. Our chart was based on a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and the survey simply did not turn up enough Orthodox Jews for the Pew researchers to be confident in the results for that category.

Second, the original version of our chart contained an error. It incorrectly placed the data point for “Seculars” (a combination of atheists, agnostics and “secular unaffiliated”); 35 percent are college graduates, not 45 percent. Now that the chart has been fixed, Seculars no longer look like a modest outlier, earning somewhat less than their education would predict. They’re right in line with most other religions, modestly more educated and affluent than Methodists and modestly less so than Presbyterians.

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