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Income and religious affiliation in the US

Income and religious affiliation in the US

David Masci of the Pew Research Center looks at income and religious affiliation. Episcopalians and Presbyterians are among the wealthiest of Christian denominations.

Pew Research Center:

While there is a strong and proven correlation between education and income, it’s harder to know whether there also is a link between religion and wealth. What we can say is that members of some religious groups – not to mention atheists and agnostics – on average have a higher household income than others and those in the richest religious groups also tend, on average, to be better educated than most Americans.

Some of the most financially successful religious groups – Jews, Hindus, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians – also are all among the nation’s most educated as well. These rankings, which come from our 2014 Religious Landscape Study, are based on the percentage of people within each religious group who reside in households with a yearly income of $100,000 or more.

About four-in-ten Jews (44%) and roughly a third of Hindus (36%) and Episcopalians (35%) live in households with incomes of at least $100,000. Again, these groups also have high levels of educational attainment. For instance, nearly half of Hindu adults and almost one-third of Jewish adults hold postgraduate degrees. Indeed, in addition to education, other factors, such as age, race and ethnicity also are correlated with both religion and income.

Members of three other mainline Protestant denominations – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church –also have high household income. So, too, do self-identified atheists and agnostics, which may call into question any link between high levels of religious belief and wealth. Members of all these groups also are more likely to be highly educated than the general population.


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Paul Woodrum

As much as we hate to admit it, in a land steeped in equal opportunity idealism, I suspect perceived economic divides in the United States are wider and deeper than even racial divides. We are a consumer society where the goal is, not to serve one another, but to climb over one another to get to the top of the heap.

I have a further inkling that it is this dynamic that has fueled the present political divisions of have-nots v. haves even more than progressives v. conservatives.

Not that any of this is particularly new. Americans have seldom been much comforted by reversal-of-fortune theology; that in the kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last, especially when it comes to $$$.

Marshall Scott

So, I have two thoughts. The first is that, relative to our society in general, we have many folks well off. That means we have more to offer, to share: “Of those to whom much has been given, much is expected.”

The second it that we aren’t as rich as we are sometimes portrayed – indeed as we sometimes portray ourselves. Roughly one third of those Episcopalians surveyed have incomes over $100,000; which means that two thirds don’t. Indeed, the distribution in their graph for us is sort of equal thirds. That doesn’t change my sense of our responsibility. It does broaden my sense of who I worship with.

Marshall Scott

Chris, I do agree that there’s not mixing within congregations (although as a supply priest of long experience I think there is more than we often credit). I think, though, in some sense I “worship with” all those folks in all those congregations.

I do think there’s perhaps more mixing in those small congregations, for geographic reasons as much as anything. I’m clear that other circumstances help shape congregations.

Chris Harwood

I saw that too. However, looking around, our churches seem to be segregated by income. Our diocese has “country club” congregations and rural parishes where everyone is poorer, or perhaps a “patron” or two and the rest poor and other towns where everyone is “middling”. There doesn’t seem to be much mixing within congregations.

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