Patrick Hynes

A recent report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research provides penetrating insight into the role of religion in America. Outside coverage from ABC News, however, the report hasn’t received the attention it deserves. In the report, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  economist Jonathan Gruber identifies a correlation between the frequency with which a person attends church and that person’s income.

According to Gruber, a household that attends church with twice the level of frequency as another household has 9.1 percent more income. Gruber’s paper highlights some other interesting findings, according to ABC News:

“That extra participation in religious activity correlates with 16 percent less welfare participation than the usual rate, 4 percent lower odds of being divorced and 4.4 percent increased chances of being married.”

Gruber does not claim to have established causation through his study. He only notes the correlation.

ABC News pointed out some additional findings by other researchers not included in Gruber’s study, and when combined with Gruber’s findings, they begin to paint a new image of the average American churchgoer:

“…religious participation correlates with better health and lower levels of deviant or criminal behavior. Further, attending religious services weekly, rather than not at all, has the same effect in individuals’ self-reported happiness as moving from the bottom quarter of the income distribution (that is, people who are poor or near poor) to the top quarter (the well-to-do.)”

Both ABC News and Jonathan Gruber posited some “whys,” though they were careful, again, not to endorse any specific explanation:

“Another factor could be more attendance at religious schools of the children of highly religious families. That could provide better schooling or contacts for adult life.

“Or, Gruber continues, it could be that those ‘with more faith may be less stressed out about daily problems that impede success in the labor market and the marriage market, and are therefore more successful.’”


Patrick Hynes

Patrick Hynes is the president of New Media Strategics, a blog relations consultancy. He is the proprietor of Ankle Biting Pundits and the author of In Defense of the Religious Right (Nelson Current).

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