Correlating Religion, Education, and Family Income

Occasionally, a very simple graphic makes a profound point.

That happened last Sunday when the New York Times Sunday Magazine published the following graphic and story correlating religion, education, and income. The chart illustrates the fundamental importance Reform and Conservative Jews place on education (58 to 65 percent of them have college degrees – versus 27 percent of the American population). That disparity has a dramatic impact on family income. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jews have family incomes of more than $75,000 per year versus only 31 percent of American families. Cultures that treasure education will produce kids with significantly greater job skills – and that will qualify them for substantially higher paying jobs. As ever more of our mid-level jobs are lost to productivity gains, college and post graduate degrees are becoming ever more critical to the future of our kids.


New York Times Sunday Magazine Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?

By DAVID LEONHARDT

The economic differences among the country’s various religions are strikingly large, much larger than the differences among states and even larger than those among racial groups.

The most affluent of the major religions — including secularism — is Reform Judaism. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jewish households made more than $75,000 a year at the time the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life collected the data, compared with only 31 percent of the population as a whole. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent.

On the other end are Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists. In each case, 20 percent or fewer of followers made at least $75,000. Remarkably, the share of Baptist households making $40,000 or less is roughly the same as the share of Reform Jews making $100,000 or more. Overall, Protestants, who together are the country’s largest religious group, are poorer than average and poorer than Catholics. That stands in contrast to the long history, made famous by Max Weber, of Protestant nations generally being richer than Catholic nations.

Many factors are behind the discrepancies among religions, but one stands out. The relationship between education and income is so strong that you can almost draw a line through the points on this graph. Social science rarely produces results this clean.

What about the modest outliers — like Unitarians, Buddhists and Orthodox Christians, all of whom are less affluent than they are educated (and are below the imaginary line)? One possible explanation is that some religions are more likely to produce, or to attract, people who voluntarily choose lower-paying jobs, like teaching.

Another potential explanation is discrimination. Scott Keeter of Pew notes that researchers have used more sophisticated versions of this sort of analysis to look for patterns of marketplace discrimination. And a few of the religions that make less than their education would suggest have largely nonwhite followings, including Buddhism and Hinduism. Pew also created a category of traditionally black Protestant congregations, and it was somewhat poorer than could be explained by education levels. These patterns don’t prove discrimination, but they raise questions.

Some of the income differences probably stem from culture. Some faiths place great importance on formal education. But the differences are also self-reinforcing. People who make more money can send their children to better schools, exacerbating the many advantages they have over poorer children. Round and round, the cycle goes. It won’t solve itself.

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