January 18, 2006


Wealth from worship: An economist finds that going to church is more than its own reward (The Economist, Dec 20th 2005)

Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims that regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results* (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone's income by almost 10%.

The idea that religion can bring material advantages has a distinguished history. A century ago Max Weber argued that the Protestant work ethic lay behind Europe's prosperity. More recently Robert Barro, a professor at Harvard, has been examining the links between religion and economic growth (his work was reviewed here in November 2003). At the microeconomic level, several studies have concluded that religious participation is associated with lower rates of crime, drug use and so forth. Richard Freeman, another Harvard economist, found 20 years ago that churchgoing black youths were more likely to attend school and less likely to commit crimes or use drugs.

Until recently, however, there was little quantitative research on whether religion affects income directly and if so, by how much. A big obstacle is the difficulty of disentangling cause and effect. That frequent churchgoers have higher incomes than non-churchgoers does not prove that religion made them richer. It might be that richer people are likelier to go to church. Or unrelated traits, such as greater ambition or personal discipline, could lead people both to go to church and also to succeed in their work.

To distinguish cause from coincidence, Mr Gruber uses information on the ethnic mix of neighbourhoods and congregations. Sociologists have long argued that people are more likely to go to church if their neighbours share their faith. Thus Poles in Boston (which has lots of Italian and Irish Catholics) are more likely to attend mass than Poles in Minneapolis (which has more Scandinavian Protestants). Measuring the density of nationalities that share a religion in a particular city can therefore be a good predictor of church attendance.

But ethnic density is not wholly independent of income. Studies have found that people who live with lots of others of the same ethnic origin tend to be worse off than those who are not “ghettoised”. So Mr Gruber excludes an individual's own group from the measures, and instead calculates the density of “co-religionists”, the proportion of the population that shares your religion but not your race.

According to Mr Gruber's calculations, a 10% increase in the density of co-religionists leads to an 8.5% rise in churchgoing. Once he has controlled for other inter-city differences, Mr Gruber finds that a 10% increase in the density of co-religionists leads to a 0.9% rise in income. In other words, because there are lots of non-Polish Catholics in Boston and few in Minnesota, Poles in Boston both go to church more often and are materially better off relative to, say, Swedes in Boston than Poles in Minnesota relative to Swedes in Minnesota.

Mr Gruber finds little evidence that living near different ethnic groups of the same faith affects any other civic activity. Poles in Boston are no more likely to join secular organisations than Poles in Minnesota. Since general differences between cities are already controlled for, that leads him to conclude that it must be religious attendance that is driving the differences in income.

The greater religiosity of Latino immigrants is reason enough to welcome more of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2006 12:00 AM

"Seek first the kingdom of God......."

Posted by: jdkelly at January 18, 2006 2:06 PM

If they are so pious why do hispanics have higher rates of abortion, illegitimacy, and criminality than whites?

Posted by: Carter at January 18, 2006 2:33 PM

Because they're poorer.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2006 2:46 PM

That's the problem, isn't it? Church-goers have higher rates of education and income, and lower rates of witchcraft and crimes against nature.* When the preferential option is for otherness, for Satanism and perversion, then religion is made the enemy, without regard to its material benefits.

Of course the mechanism of social advantage is "discipline," but the advantage is that religion provides inner discipline, which is extremely efficient. Replacing it with external discipline is both costly and destructive.

This is the neo-Spencerian position: religion works; it is a successful folkway. Mankind is better off with Big Father than with Big Brother.

*Only lower. Religious people still sin, but we know what sin is, and we do not give out movie awards for it.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 18, 2006 2:50 PM

Everyone in this country was poorer in the past when rates of abortion, illegitimacy, and criminality were lower. Perhaps "The greater religiosity of Latino immigrants" is a figment of the pro-immigrationist imagination?

Also, I suspect that hispanics have higher rates of all the above in comparison with whites even when income is adjusted for, but I'm willing to look at any evidence you could provide which suggests otherwise.

Posted by: Carter at January 18, 2006 5:07 PM

No, the poor are always more subject to social pathologies. In Britain the scummy underclass is all white. Same types of problems as the underclass here, just monochrome. Our advantage lies in importing Hispanics to swamp the current underclass.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2006 5:23 PM

So you think by importing a slightly better quality of underclass than the existing black underclass (and that is the underclass we are talking about, the one that according to you needs to be "swamped out", as poor whites have fewer social pathologies than poor hispanics), it will make the country better off? Even though by doing so you increase the total size of the underclass, make non-wealthy Americans worse off, and you can't guarantee your imported underclass won't either assimilate to the black underclass or stay loyal to Mexico, or both? Honestly, your reasoning suggests a mind gone horribly wrong.

Posted by: Carter at January 19, 2006 12:16 AM

Why would an imported Mexican underclass stay loyal to Mexico in the future, given that it's never done so in the past ?

Illegal immigrants make some non-wealthy Americans worse off, and some better off, so that's a wash.

Middle class Americans are, on the whole, slightly worse off financially than they would be if there were no illegal immigration, but only in the SHORT TERM.

LONG TERM, paying for the entire social costs of illegals is a wise investment in the future - assuming that today's middle class doesn't want to have to work until they're 80.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2006 12:54 AM


Because each of our own grandparents were unique--no other immigrants can measure up.

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2006 7:40 AM


No, any import will succeed better than the black underclass has. Haitians and Africans do well, for instance.

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2006 7:41 AM

Michael: So the future is always exactly like the past? In the past immigrants arrived to a culture more intent on assimilating them, in smaller numbers, and with greater difficulties of maintaining ties to Mexico.

Mass immigration of low skill workers, which is what our policy is now, will add to future social costs. They extract more from the system than they pay in, and because of family reunification they can bring their own elderly relatives here to collect medicare without having paid into the system.



As for their children paying for your retirement, the average Hispanic high school graduation rate is 53%.

If you are going to claim we need immigration to benefit the economy and sustain social security then you should advocate an immigration policy which selects the type of immigrants that actually does that.

OJ: The black underclass is already here. It's as if your saying because they are black we should favor non-Americans over them. Immigrants from Haiti and Africa in the past when it was harder to get in were a much more self-selected group than they are now.

Posted by: Carter at January 19, 2006 4:25 PM

No, they didn't. The anti-immigration mood and political power was far greater in the past. We've grown up a lot since the Germans, Italians, Irish, Catholics, Jews, etc. turned out not to wreck the country.

Posted by: oj at January 19, 2006 4:32 PM

Yes, I wish that the U.S. had a rational immigration policy, but they don't and won't.

Given that, it's an adequate second-best to have tens of millions of Mexicans move to the U.S. - which is a good thing, since they're going to move here regardless of whether it's good for America or not.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 19, 2006 8:22 PM