I have been reading papers that I may use in a Fall class, and one is a survey of the economics of religion. As best I can tell, this field largely consists of sociologists applying rational choice modeling to questions of religion. As subject matter it is very interesting but the modeling is not terribly well-developed or convincing.
In any case, I though I would share the facts of religion, as culled from this paper. Note that this is all from a 1996 paper by Laurence Iannaccone. I should almost put quote marks around it, but it isn’t verbatim so I won’t.
1. American Church membership has risen throughout our history, from 17% in the beginning to 60% today.
2. We have, in the U.S., about 1.2 clergy per thousand people. This number has been about the same for 150 years.
3. Since polling was available in the 30’s, a stable 40% of the population calls itself churchgoing (in a typical week). The only noticeable pattern is a drop among Catholics after the papal announcements in the 60’s.
4. 95% of Americans believe in the existence of God. This number hasn’t moved since it was first surveyed in 1945. Also stable is the number believing in an afterlife (71%), heaven (72%), or hell (60%).
5. Total contributions to Churches are stable at about 1% of GNP. This accounts for half of all charitable giving. Most volunteer work is also religious.
6. Religious belief and activity do not decline with income (though giving rises with income). Most religious indicators rise with education. But income and education do predict the type of religion, with more liberal, less-demanding religions drawing more from the wealthy and educated.
7. College professors are a little bit less religious on average than the population. This is most pronounced in the humanities and social sciences. The bastions of personal antagonism to religion in the academy are the same fields that have pushed the claim that society is secularizing and that there is a tension between science and religion, namely psychology, anthropology, and sociology. Those in the physical sciences, who actually deal with, you know, science, are comparatively much more likely to attend church and/or profess faith.
8. The fastest growing religions require adherence to strict rules. There is some nice, but simple, economic theory about why this occurs.