Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Religion and what's important to people

Brad has had a number of posts about the relationship to religion to various kinds of behavior (or at least reports of behavior). Here I'll report some data about religion and people's general feelings about life--what's important to them and how satisfied they are with various aspects of their lives. Today I'll consider a series of questions about the importance of various things--the questions are of the form "How important to you is X--very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?" The data come from a New York Times poll, given to a random sample of American adults in July 1999. I classified people into four groups: strong Protestants (white); strong Protestants (black); strong Catholics; and not strongly religious (a few people didn't fall into any of these categories and were excluded). People were counted as "strong" if they said that religion was very important in their daily lives and that they attended religious services frequently. The classification somewhat arbitrary--for example, I could have made the black/white distinction among Catholics and not strongly religious as well, but I wanted to keep the number of categories reasonably small. Under this definition, about 800 people were counted as not strongly religious, 200 as strong white Protestants; 30 as strong black Protestants, and 90 as strong Catholics.

Points on which there was no clear difference: the importance of "being able to communicate feelings" (about 80% in all groups rate it as very important); "having a fulfilling job" (about 75% very important); "having good health" (about 90% very important); "being responsible for your own actions" (about 95% very important); and "standing up for yourself" (about 90%). Strong black Protestants rate "being physically attractive" as somewhat more important than all of the other groups, so that difference probably has to do with race rather than religion.

Points on which there were differences: unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone in the strongly religious groups rates "being religious" and "having faith in God" as very important. They also rank "being married" and "having children" as more important compared to people in the not strongly religious group. For example, 53% of the not strongly religious rate being married as very important, versus 59% of strong black Protestants, 73% of strong white Protestants, and 66% of strong Catholics. Strongly religious people, especially strong black Protestants, rate "being involved in the community" as more important. The same is true of "being a good neighbor": between 75 and 85% of the strongly religious groups rate it as very important, compared to 62% of the not strongly religious. Strong Catholics and strong white Protestants rate "having a lot of friends" as more important than the other two groups, so both race and religion may be involved. And finally, strong white Protestants stand out as ranking "having enough time for yourself" as less important than all the other groups. It's not a huge difference, but it's large enough so that it's unlikely to be the result of chance: 58% of the not strongly religious, but only 40% of the strong white Protestants, say that it's very important.

So overall, there seems to be a pretty clear pattern--compared to less religious people, more religious people rate everything involving relations with other people as more important. I think there may be some subtler differences, but this is the one that stands out.--David Weakliem


Scott Kemp said...

I am white, a protestant, and strongly religious by any measure.

I am also a mid-level manager where I work. The bedrock principle of my management philosophy is "People are more important than things."

I did not come up with this on my own. I learned it from reading and being taught from the Bible. The God who sent His Son to be killed as reparation for our (my) crimes believes that people are more important than things, too.

The interesting thing is that, as a management principle, "People are more important than things." works very well.

S.S.Stone said...

..and isn't it nice that this is the one that stands out...things come and go ,good relatioinships last a lifetime.