Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Economic growth & religion

Here's an interesting paper by an economist, Michael McBride, at UC Irvine. He addresses the issue of whether religious participation should decrease as societies grow wealthier. People have long predicted that religion should decline in increasingly wealthy societies because increased secularlization should decrease demand for religion. Also, the better off live is in this life, the more difficulty we should have in thinking about the next life.

The paper is rather technical (I think economists get commission for every equation that they use), but his conclusions are pretty straightforward.

He finds that yes secularization & wealth decrease the demand for religion in some ways, but in other ways they increase it. Specifically, increased wealth allows religious groups to promote themselves more effectively. It also creates inequality in society which motivates people to find comfort in religion.

Thanks Jay for the link!


Peter said...

I just finished up that thesis I was writing (so much for the end of Septemeber goal ;) ) and one of the major things that I argued was that increases in socio-economic inequality have a negative effect on health inequalties among a population (The context is an argument in favour of viewing health care as a human right.) Thus, the more socio-economic equality there is, the healthier a population.

I'm curious about the effect that relative socio-economic equality has on religious participation. I know that countires that are relatively equal seem to be much more secular (Scandinavia, much of Western Europe etc), but I'm wondering if there is an actual causal connection between the two.

Just a question, not expecting a solid answer, unless you know of a study that has an answer.

Brad Wright said...

That's a great question Peter. This article suggests that more inequality results in more religious participation. It would be interesting to see that tested with data... maybe even within the US or between countries.

Congrats on the thesis!

jeremy said...

Norris and Inglehart explore this hypothesis extensively in their book, "Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide." Essentially they argue that in places where existential security is low--where disease and poverty are rampant--you find high religiosity, and where it is high you find low religiosity. They go on to argue that inequality and a lack of a social welfare "security net" decrease existential security and heighten religious participation. Thus, America is quite religious vis-a-vis European countries who have extensive social welfare systems. They use data, if I recall correctly, from the World Values Survey (and probably other places too).

Brad Wright said...

Thank you Jeremy!