Religion has a surprisingly high correlation with poverty, according to a Gallup survey conducted in more than 100 countries. The more poverty a nation has, the higher the “religiosity” in that nation.  In general, richer countries are less religious than poorer  ones.

The biggest exception? The United States, which has the highest religiosity relative to its wealth on the planet.


Religion & Poverty

graphic via NYT


Hat tip Flowing Data

Religious Outlier
NYT, September 3, 2010

Religiosity Highest in World’s Poorest Nations
United States is among the rich countries that buck the trend
Steve Crabtree
Gallup, August 31, 2010

Category: Digital Media, Psychology, UnScience

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

83 Responses to “More Poverty = More Religion”

  1. Chuck Ponzi says:

    The United States truly is a blessed nation. We all hope it stays that way.

  2. chartist says:

    Well, if you have nothing, it might be comforting to be told the meek shall inherit the earth.

  3. David Merkel says:

    The US is special in that way because of the multiple religious impulses that led to the founding of the US. Try to think of another nation that starts out of nowhere for religious reasons. Israel?

  4. mbelardes says:

    Maybe I missed it but … China?

  5. Gatsby says:

    It should also be noted that Sweden, Denmark (and Norway & Finland), Canada, and Switzerland (all in the 4th quadrant):

    a) Are consistently listed as having the best quality of life (UN survey, etc.)
    b) consistently list near the top in educational performance (add South Korea as well)
    c) are safe and stable societies
    d) have significant social safety nets (when using the United States as a baseline)
    e) are transparent democracies
    f) have strongly separated church and state (again when using the United States as a baseline)

  6. Thor says:

    David – I can think of a few. Pakistan for one.

    Isn’t the US about 30% Catholic these days?

  7. I believe Canada is predominantly protestant and not Catholic.

  8. zitidiamond says:

    No other rich country in the world suffers from such an unequal distribution of wealth as the United States. It would be interesting to examine the religious beliefs of the top 1% of the American population, who control 23% of the nation’s wealth to see whether they think Charles Darwin is a crackpot.

  9. Evoo Kermartin says:

    I’m sure the Indians are really digging on the fact that their circle, the biggest, is classified as “Others.”

    Cue Apu telling Homer Simpson: “Please to not be feeding peanuts to my god.”

  10. Gatsby says:

    @How the Common Man Sees It:

    Yes Canada is predominantly Anglican, but Quebec, which is the most religious part of the country is almost entirely Catholic. Quebec probably skewed the data for Canada substantially.

  11. super_trooper says:

    This is completely biased, include China and the “correlation” would be close to zero. The largest country in the world would end up in the bottom left square.

  12. formerlawyer says:


    Nope. 43.2% self-identify as Catholic versus 28.1% Other Christian denominations in Canada according to the 2001 Census, 16.2% state “no religion” and the .


    American exceptionalism strikes again.

  13. Patrick Neid says:

    Islam has a nice grouping….

  14. changja says:

    China’s GDP per capita is so low due to high population that it won’t change the correlation.

    The bigger problem is categorizing China’s religious nature since many such as Taoism/Confuscianism/Buddhism are not generally as easily labeled.

  15. NoKidding says:

    I’m with super_trooper.

    The message without China: Religion declines with wealth.
    The message with China: Religion converges toward something less than a coin toss as wealth increases.

  16. NoKidding says:

    Also it would be interesting to add past data as comet tails to these circles.

    I believe you would see convergence to a non-zero flatline. Downward for countries entering socialism (Scandic), and upward for countries leaving communism (former CCCP).

  17. constantnormal says:

    One can see a line/relationship going from upper left to lower right, with a few noteworthy outliers. In the fullness of time, I can certainly see the outliers regressing to the trendline.

    The points made about the homogeneity of the class distributions within each country are also significant. Over the past decade have moved a lot closer to being the world’s biggest banana republic, with a tiny minority controlling all of the wealth and the government as well.

    Personally, I think that the beliefs of the people at the pinnacle of American wealth are a lot different from those that exist in another reality. Bernie Madoff does not strike me as terribly religious, and he has more in common with the top tenth of a per cent than with the rest of the nation.

    One could probably separate these two groups in the US and they would reside at widely separated different points on the chart. The same would be true for India and China, as well as Pakistan and the OPEC countries, none of which have much in the way of a vibrant middle class. But China is at least appearing to work toward building a significant middle class. We’ll see how long that continues, as a strong middle class could prove to be problematic for the ruling minority. Tiny ruling classes are most comfortable in the context of banana republics or absolute monarchies.

  18. NoKidding says:


    “China’s GDP per capita is so low” = left on x-axis

    “due to high population” = biggest circle

    “that it won’t change the correlation” = assuming you ignore both size of population and size of economy, thus giving equal weight to China and Macedonia. Don’t you think the data set should be normalized for one of these things (GDP or population)?

  19. contrabandista13 says:

    Just goes to show how lucky we’ve been…….

    WTF does religion have to do with GDP…? Please…. I think I’m going to go and burn a Koran, or a Bible, perhaps a Dictionary. I dunno… I gotta burn something…..

  20. If you can read the chart, the answer is an inverse positive correlation, and hence this post . . .

  21. Andy T says:

    It’s interesting that the U.S., Italy and Greece look like the “outliers” on this graph.

  22. Gatsby says:

    contrabandista13 : Burn calories, you’ll live longer

    formerlawyer: thanks for the detail, I must admit they surprised me, but that’s the value of a mandatory long-form census.

    With respect to China, you can’t make the argument without forgetting that the Chinese government actively (and selectively) suppresses religion in that nation. It would be impossible to determine how religious the population is, because reliable statistics would be hard to come by. Russia’s high degree of non-religiousness is likely connected to its Soviet history.

    Bottom line, even without China, the trend is intact as that cluster in the top left corner (and the characteristics in the bottom right corner I referred to in my first post) would still exist.

  23. constantnormal says:

    If you add a religion wherein money is worshipped, I think a lot of the observed variation would disappear …

  24. bram says:

    >changja Says:
    >September 9th, 2010 at 3:43 pm
    >The bigger problem is categorizing China’s religious nature since many such as Taoism/Confuscianism/Buddhism are not >generally as easily labeled.

    Religion plays very small role in people’s lives in China.

  25. advocatusdiaboli says:

    I have an idea what the problem is–and it is a data problem. You are using GDP per capita as an average for wealth (you are measuring poverty after all. Given that the concentration of wealth in the US is the highest it’s been since 1928, you might want to try using median wealth and see if the US doesn’t fall right down in the wealth rankings perhaps. I think it will but I am not sure it it will account for all the difference. Hey, it’s an idea at least.

  26. MaciekKolodziejczyk says:


    This not only looks biased, but given the upcoming 9/11 and proposed burning of the Q’uran also highly antagonising.

    Someone that just reads this chart, may conclude that there are only:
    - Christians,
    - Muslims
    - and some undefined “others”.

    Where’s the billion people of the third biggest philosophical stance – nonbelievers? Where’s a billion of Hindus? Where are the Buddhists – which are more numerous than the citizens of the US? In fact Christians and Muslims combined are only about 50% of total World population. Wouldn’t it be good to learn who are the other 50%?

    This is so misleading. See here for more detailed data:

    or at least check the Wikipedia:



  27. MaciekKolodziejczyk says:


    I just realised that:
    - the biggest chunk of data (China) is missing.
    - the second biggest chunk of data (India) is in “Others”.

    If such a chart is not biased and misleading, than what is?


  28. ezduzit says:

    about 50 million (18%) americans are estimated to be atheists. i guess they are all running to check their bank account balances.

  29. advocatusdiaboli says:

    Bias or not regarding poverty and religion (though there is a strong correlation in general, but it is well-established that the US is the most religious of the G8 through numerous surveys of church attendance, belief in the power of prayer, and belief in the supernatural, the creation myth, mistrust of science and evolution, etc.

  30. Arequipa01 says:

    Relation to the ‘divine’ is an element of a system that administers the exchange of values.

    Did the shift in European thought from transubstantiation to consubstantiation allow for a shift in the relation to Capital?

    Is the US willingness to amass ‘infinite’ debt through limitless deficit spending related to the born again option? All will be forgiven?

  31. rtweston says:

    per zitidiamond, what happens if you adjust the chart for income distribution. For instance by excluding the wealthiest top 1, 2, or 3% of each countries population.

  32. keithpiccirillo says:

    The message to me is that religion is often used in poorer countries as a social control mechanism.

  33. Rescission says:

    If no one else will state the obvious, then I will. Islam doesn’t pay.

    If you ran the chart “by religion” what would it show?
    I would like to see the chart of Muslim vs. Non-Muslim.

  34. changja says:


    China is approx the same GDP as Japan but at ~12x the population. And being from China and having many trips and friends and relatives in China, its not as atheist as people believe.

    The difficulty is that religion is China is not measured easily like it is in US. For example, confucianism plays a big role but its not like you can point to a church attendance for that. Same with Buddhism, there are many sects and many very localized beliefs esp in the Southern and Western regions where historically they been isolated a lot over the last 2 millenium.

    I would estimate that on the Y-axis its probably somewhere around Vietnam/Ukraine which would not take it that far out of the correlation.

    Whether to normalizing the data set is a different argument. Religion to some degree is nationally determined (see Constantine & Roman empire) so normalizing population only makes sense if they are relatively similar (i.e. Germany & France maybe) but not say Vatican vs China.

  35. leonardcrook says:

    The graph brings fondly to mind intense debates in graduate school over Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and R.H. Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. The graph supports the observations of those 20th century scholars.

  36. VennData says:

    Davis Merkel says, “The US is special in that way because of the multiple religious impulses that led to the founding of the US. ”

    Huh? Multiple religious impulses? What Home Schooling program did you attend? Have you read the Constitution. Freedom of Religion, which for operates as Freedom FROM religion.

  37. poppysmic says:

    Comparing the US to other wealthy nations with a chart like this is misleading because our income inequality is so much higher.

    We have a lot more poor people than other developed countries and a few on top who are MUCH richer than the top strata in other developed countries, so GDP per head is a terrible statistic to use.

    If you broke the US population into income deciles and plotted each group separately, you’d get see that, just like everywhere else, in the US religiosity declines with income. Many religious and poor people, a few non-religious and rich people.

  38. DrungoHazewood says:

    Methodists and Baptists. If you know these, you’ll know what I mean.

  39. Raleighwood says:

    About what I would expect for a Country whose every political discussion is made with abortion as either the sub-text, the motivation or the platform from which it sprung.

    RR brings the religious right out of the closet, gives them the spot-light after the exhaustion of cultural upheaval, and it’s been downhill ever since. The church of Saint Ronnie thrives even after years of perverse and self-destructive actions on the part of his parishioners.

  40. adamsdc says:

    When i see charts like this I am reminded why statistics can be viewed as as an evil art.
    Having traveled to every country in Africa as well as India, Pakistan, China, and most of the Middle East, I can put together a chart that correlates the lack of deodorant and poverty. And of course the conclusion that can be reached, in line with the logic of this religion/poverty chart, is that poverty would end if people were only given deodorant.
    Utter nonsense, but equally valid as any conclusion people are asked to draw from a chart like this that displays Western ethnocentrism and arrogance to the fullest of its ugliness.
    just call me “other” like the plurality in this chart.

  41. philipat says:

    “Religion is the Opium of the people”

    Karl Marx.

  42. I call bunk from the start: flawed research.

    “is religion and important part of your daily life?” of course it skews that muslims who are supposed to pray five times a day would by definition be more religious if they got out of slumber to be religious. And if there are 1.5 muslims for every 2 christians and muslims tend to live in poorer countries well…And where is sub-saharan Africa? I’ve lived in Vietnam and Indonesia and one is not more religious than the other, just different religions. And Indonesia more religious than Saudi, please thats just dumb.

    People who eat cheese pizza are less poor than people who have never eaten cheese pizza.

  43. srickant says:

    Isnt this what one wants to believe? The poor unclothed souls will fall into the clutches of religion? How many of the poor people in the poor nations would have been reached for this survey? For, India it would be near impossible to ask that question for a meaningful sample because of the linguistic differences. And the religion the way it is understood is not how it would be understood in India.

    What would have been truly interesting to note is if the mapping the median income of the people who said they believed that religion plays an important role with the median income of the general population. Or adjusted for PPP terms against a global average.

  44. poppysmic says:

    Last week’s Newsweek cover story was about the world’s best places to live. Nearly all of the top countries on the list are high GDP and low religiosity. Coincidence? I think not!

  45. tawm says:

    This all depends on what is categorized as a “religion.” Some of these faiths are not directly comparable. Why not add Environmentalism as a religion in the West? Sure seems that way….

  46. That is a seriously goofy answer.

    And this from a guy who drives a 450 HP V8.

  47. Expat says:

    Given what I know of America, if we are destined to move closer to the norm, it is likely we will move left and up rather than down. It would be interesting to poll Americans about the question, asking them “Would you rather America were more religious or richer?” and perhaps, “Would you rather I burned your life savings or all your bibles?”

  48. Kort says:

    @VennData: who says “Huh? Multiple religious impulses? What Home Schooling program did you attend? Have you read the Constitution. Freedom of Religion, which for operates as Freedom FROM religion.”

    You should research your history before throwing in the condescending act. The 1620s and 1630s were marked by the Puritans and others fleeing Europe and colonizing Massachusetts. Of course, not all was great there, so people like Roger Williams fled Massachusetts…to found Rhode Island. And on, and on. Look up the Quakers in the Quaker State—Pennsylvania; William Penn was arrested and harassed many times in Europe for being a Quaker until he hatched the plan to move to the colonies and founded Penn-sylvania.) So, yes, multiple religious impulses.

    As for freedom of religion, and separation of church and state—this was not so much to protect the state, from the church—as it was to protect the church, from the state. With various States (i.e., countries) oppressing religion (hence the migration from Europe to US, or to Rhode Island), it became important to guys like Thomas Jefferson to erect a “wall of separation”. Madison, too. They were inspired by guys like John Locke and others who know the limitations of a government. Jefferson was raised under the Church of England, a TAX-funded church in Virginia—he came to realize that any members not of a tax-funded church could/would be at a disadvantage to members. Tax funded churches existed in other states too—New York, North Carolina and others. Jefferson had a brilliant idea—proect people from the government and forbid the government from funding or establishing religion/churches. That way, if you don’t belong to the “correct religion”, you aren’t at a disadvantage and your tax dollars aren’t funding somebody else’s church.

    You are critical of some guy and throw in jabs at home schooling, but it appears your view of US history was contained on a note inside a Cracker Jack box. There’s a little more to it than that.

  49. ashpelham2 says:

    America is a nation of contradictions.

    The question posed above by Expat is a great example. As much as we worship the almight Dollar in this country, and are thought of as the greediest society by much of the world (outside of our own little Myopia), I don’t know if Americans WOULD allow Bibles to be burned instead of their life savings. For one, we love to contradict ourselves. As much as I would expect that the dollar outweighs the belief in God today, I think most of America would let you have the money. Of course, this is all hypothetical. I would not give up my faith for any amount of money, however, I’d like to compromise, which I think is what gets us into the most trouble sometimes. Plus, no one is going to give me all the money I need and want in exchange for my Bibles. It’s a hypothetical, and would never happen. It’s not even a good example, because it’s so ludicrous. It’s like asking, would you mind if Tom Brady watched while you made love to Giselle Bunchen? would never happen, so you don’t mind answering.

    Let’s put it into better terms. And this is the way I see this chart…As a nation’s wealth and well-being builds, it becomes less dependent on faith and a belief system. Most of those nations showing the highest religious percentages, never had money or wealth. Many of them never left the dark ages. America, however, is an outlier in every way. We left another nation to form this one, with our own system of beliefs about religious tolerance, and we hold fast to those today.

    And in my opinion, if a pastor wants to burn the Koran, he should not have Powers That Be telling him he can’t. It’s an example of religious freedoms we have, and it’s not threat to any one person. The entire stink is created because of news agencies like Faux News who need something right now, as it appears every single living thing in the Gulf of mexico might not die.

  50. Gatsby says:


    If you knew your history you would know that Jefferson was at best a critical Christian and was worst an atheist. The wedge between church and state was to establish a “Freedom from Religion” so as to encourage continued immigration to the United States which was critical to the growth of the burgeoning nation. You completely misread Jefferson.

    You are correct on his actions with Madison and his inspiration by Locke but you misread him. Jefferson was a free thinker who hated the dogmatic thinking the church propagated, and viewed religious men (like John Adams) as less able to function in government as free thinkers like himself.

    Renowned Harvard Historian Simon Schama clearly lays out in his excellent work “The American Future: A History” the Jefferson “marveled at the credulousness of those who believed Jesus was the son of God, born to a virgin.”

    Jefferson also described his effort to move forward the Statute of Religious Freedom as ‘the severest contents in which I have ever been engaged’.

    In his “Notes on the State of Virginia” Jefferson derides the fact that (at that time in his home state) those who dispute the validity of divine scripture cannot hold office., which he refereed to as ‘religious slavery’.

    Perhaps most telling were the Jefferson’s debates to the Virginia legislature where he tried (and failed) to get his Bill of Religious Freedom passed. In this effort Jefferson wrote ‘Whereas almighty God hath created the mind free, all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or by burthens or by civil incapacitation tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our Religion, who being both lord of body and mind and yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either.’ Jefferson clearly states here that we were born with the ability to think and act freely and are bound by our natural ethics. Any attempt by the church or state to suppress free thought and inquiry he considered a sin.

    Cracker Jack Box: 1 Home Schooled Bile Readers: 0

    There is little more to it than that.

  51. Roger Bigod says:

    I think David Merkel is a good guy who’s posted a lot of intelligent material, but “religious impulses” is off base. Some people came to America to be free to practice their religions (Puritans, Quakers, Catholics in MD), but the enthusiasm was dissipated by the time of the Founding. Several of the Founders were openly Deist, which would be doom to a political career today. That includes Jefferson and Madison, probably Washington. The smartest one was probably Morris, who was an easygoing Anglican. His religious beliefs were certainly not the basis for his interest in politics.

    A strong reason for their separation of Church and State was memory of the recent religious wars in Europe. Also, they were trying to cobble together colonies in which different religions predominated, so they wanted to keep conflicts out of the national government. But they had to let state governments support religion out of taxes if they wanted the Constitution ratified, so it says “Congress shall make no law”.

  52. formerlawyer says:

    Can we agree to ban the buzzword “outlier”?

    How about “exception”, “unusual case”, “abbynormal”, “freak”, “cosmic mistake” – anything but “outlier” please….

  53. Roger Bigod says:

    Right. “Outlier” barely moves the needle any more.

  54. Ken B says:

    I’m dissappointed in America’s religiosity. I can only hope we soon discard the unintelligent beliefs and superstitions passed down for millenia.

  55. DeDude says:

    If you harvest your reality from a holy book (or worse someone else’s interpretation of a holy book), then you are going to be worse off than if you harvest your reality from facts. You get a lot more things right if you base decisions on objective facts, than if you use some morons interpretation of a thousand year old book.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I think that most of the big religions give great guidance on how to conduct your personal interactions with other people. Problem is that most religious people don’t want their religion to be kept within that sphere.

  56. diogeron says:

    As is often the case, Christopher Hitchens sums up my response far more eloquently than anything I would write on this subject.

  57. VRWC says:

    Mr Ritholtz, quite correctly, often warns his readers about blindly accepting information that confirms our own biases.

    I think the posting of this chart is a perfect example of just that…. NY Times readers want to believe that “More poverty = More religion”, so they accept this chart without asking “where is China?’ and whether there might be a difference between predominantly muslim or even catholic nations versus those dominated by the much maligned protestant work ethic….

    There is no consideration of the fact that now secular Europe built its tremendous wealth when it was a very religious region and has seen its relative decline go hand in hand with its abandonment of faith….

    Nor do we get any subtlety in an India branded as “other”…. but clearly religious…. being poor overall but among the most dynamic and fastest growing economic powers.

    Instead, NY Times readers like Mr. Ritholtz just enjoy believing that religion equals poverty and let’s not look any further than that.

  58. VRWC says:

    Look at the chart again and ask this question….

    Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Sweden & Switzerland are all in the lower right quadrant denoting “More wealth, less religion”, right?

    Where were they on this chart when they built their wealth?

    I would suggest right about where the US is now on a relative basis…. if not higher on the religion axis….

    (Hong Kong too, since the Brits made them what they are ….)

  59. ashpelham2 says:

    Sure, VRWC, you can trace the fact that we have so much hatred in this world to the fact that we have so few children brought up with an understanding of how to behave and handle themselves. It’s wide open in some places, where fatherless households are the norm, not the exception (or outlier, heheheee).
    I consider myself to be a believer. But I know that my faith doesn’t excuse me from making dumb decisions, or not wanting to make decisions at all. Sometimes, when things are out of our own control, and we can do NOTHING to effect the outcome (admittedly, a pretty rare instance), it might be better to put one’s faith in God, and let it roll.

  60. VRWC says:

    I am not defending the merits of faith…. I am simply making the case that the creators of this chart were fundamentally dishonest in every way, in their attempt to equate religion with poverty.

    There may be a good argument out there that religion and poverty go hand in hand…. but this chart ain’t it.

  61. DeDude says:

    WRWC; you are doing the exact same type of biased interpretation that you complain that the authors of this chart are guilty of (and they are). “Knowing” what the conclusion should be, and then searching for things that can support it, is a sure way to get disconnected from the truth.

    You jump in with all kinds of presumptions that can make the negative correlation invalid and support a positive correlation. I can tell you that the Scandinavian countries (Denmark Norway and Sweden) were very low on the religious charts when they build their wealth.

    Economic growth and wealth is clearly something way to complicated to be explained by a single parameter. Think multivariate modeling even if the human pea brain has such a hard time dealing with that concept.

  62. DeDude says:

    Just take your presentation of China and India – both relatively poor, but with fast growing economies. Yet you bring out China only in the context of a poor country that is not religious (rather than a non-religious and fast growing country). In contrast you bring out India as a religious country with fast growth (not a poor country that is religious). You selectively discuss these two countries only in the context that support your conclusion.

  63. VRWC says:


    All kinds of presumptions? I think not….

    First of all, I am not the one who is holding out a simplistic diagram as an all inclusive description of the relationship between religious faith and wealth. I very clearly stated that the subject is more complicated than the chart implies.

    Second, you can’t disagree that the empire and wealth building that Britain, France, Germany and Spain undertook was during a period of high religiosity and in fact often DRIVEN by that faith, for good or ill…. your only disagreement appears to be the Scandanavian countries….

    And even there I can’t see where you make a solid case…. You say nothing about the region’s history…. you merely see a few wealthy countries full of atheists and assume the one has something to do with the other….

    What time period you are talking about? Forget about the age of the Vikings ( I won’t count plundering in the name of Thor as “religiously driven wealth accumulation”)…. Sweden’s empire of the 16 to 1800′s (which controlled Denmark and much of Norway & Finland) was begun by King Gustavus Adolphus who was driven to defend the Lutheran movement against Rome, and wanted to set himself up as the Holy Roman Emperor….

    Ol’ Gustavus was a pretty religious guy…. It was illegal until 1860 to be anything but a Lutheran…. the Swedes who emigrated to America were very religious.

    I would agree with the notion that the Scandanavians have shed their religious belief faster than just about anywhere else on earth…. But I doubt that you can show any CAUSAL relationship between their loss of faith and the wealth which they accumulated in fits and starts over many centuries during periods of both high religious faith and low….

  64. Roger Bigod says:

    “There is no consideration of the fact that now secular Europe built its tremendous wealth when it was a very religious region…”

    And no wonder, since it isn’t a fact. The building of wealth didn’t really take off until the Industrial Revolution, say 1790. And religion had been in sharp decline for the preceding 50 years or so. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall came out around 1776. It essentially says that Christianity was a corrupt racket that contributed importantly to the fall of the Roman Empire. He was honored for the book. In a religious age he would have been burned as a heretic.

    “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.”

  65. VRWC says:

    De Dude,

    As far as China and India go….

    First off, leaving China out was the most dishonest part of the chart. My point on that was clear.

    If I was less clear on India, let me do better now….

    China is a poor but fast growing, mostly non religious country.

    India is a poor but fast growing, mostly religious country.

    If you only took those facts you would have to say that the relationship between religion and wealth is non existent or murky at best, and that the chart means nothing…. but it goes farther than that.

    The relationship between religion and wealth is complicated…. different for each country…. and for each faith…. at different times in history. For each major faith you can show long, historical periods where said faith both hampered and drove wealth creation and acquisition.

    To take a snapshot of religion in 2010 and imply that it says anything substantive or consistent about the historical relationship between religion and wealth or poverty is intellectually dishonest.

  66. VRWC says:

    Mr. Bigod,

    I disagree. The Calvinist religious revival or Great Awakening which drove the abolitionist movement began in the 1740′s and came about again around 1800 was extremely strong in Britain, Holland and the US during exactly the period you describe.

    These were still very religious societies even if heretics were no longer burned at the stake…. That Gibbon described the 4th Century church as a corrupt racket does not mean that even those that hailed his work thought the same thing of their own churches 14 centuries later….

  67. DeDude says:

    You have to go back to the preindustrialized imperial times of 16 to 1800’s to connect wealth of modern societies to their religion – that is called really thin ice. I think the chart was about the religiosity amongst currently living people and the current wealth of those societies. Having to go back several hundreds of years to explain that those countries not showing a correlation between wealth and religiosity actually owe their wealth to religion (of their dictatorial leader) is called grasping at straws. The history of relevance for todays science and technology driven economies is the post WW2 period. Did religion help, hold back or not influence modern era economic growth. It is clear that there is not absolute rule either way. You can always cherry pick examples to demonstrate one thing or the opposite, that is why multivariate models and statistics become essential to find the truth.

  68. DMR says:

    The United States is not one homogenous group of 300 million people. If you see the state by state breakdown below, you’ll see that states in the south where the per-capita is closer to 20k are 80% religious, whereas states in the northeast where the per-capita is >40k are only half as religious.

  69. Roger Bigod says:


    What’s “dishonest” about the chart? It plots the countries on two variables, wealth and religiousity. The authors used straightforward measures and cited sources for each. And the results are consistent with general knowledge about national characteristics.

    The best interpretation may be that political arrangements control both wealth and religiosity. When a government is ineffective or corrupt, the economy is screwed up and religious groups step up to provide social services. Example: southern Lebanon. When the Roman Empire collapsed, the Church provided employment, rudimentary justice (ecclesiastical courts). Think Hezbollah with crucifixes.

    When government services are efficient, religion doesn’t go away, e.g. Scandanavia. They have perhaps the most freedom _of_ religion. This is an affront to the belief that Christianity was essential to the material success of Europe “civilization” in the last few centuries. But if that’s a false belief, we’re better off without it.

  70. Gatsby says:


    DeDude got you exactly right. You are searching for assumptions that in fact support your conclusion.

    First off, you say that the European nations were religious when they developed their wealth. Yes, but it was also a time when literacy was the exception, not the norm. It was a long time ago, where humanity, and the average human knew far less about the natural world around them then they do today. Everyone was more religious back then. They also thought the Earth was flat and sea dragons existed. What is your point.

    You state that it is clear that Britain was driven buy religion and not nationalism, or desired for personal power, but provide no examples or proof. Were protestant nations not the great heretics, asking dangerous questions about faith?

    You also correlate the increasing of secularism to their “decline” but neither show supporting data or define Europe’s decline. Who says Europe is declining. By why measure?

    Lastly you biggest hole is Canada. First off you stated that Canada was more religious when it developed it’s wealth, but in fact it is a younger nation and has always been markedly less ‘religious’ than the US from 1867 and before. Canada by many many metrics is a “better” country than the US, and by many metrics is not. Does religion have anything to do with it? Maybe but I have not seen evidence, other than the fact that secular minded people tend to be better decision makers.

    It is easy to get down to the business of government when you don’t waist the majority of your time observing about non-operational topics such as fighting abortion, spreading lies about stem cell research, and where the word ‘God’ should and should not be published.

  71. lisalilou97 says:

    I am always amazed to see the efforts that the pro-religion camp makes to discard analysis like this one. The point is clear and brillantly summarized in this chart. But still they are going to try to argue that the analysis is biased for whatever reason they can find or that some other factor is missing in the analysis. DeDude: even if other factors come into play (such as education), the main point remains that religiosity is clearly associated with poverty (and no, even if you include China, the correlation between the 2 would not break down !). But to be fair correlation is not causation. Is it that wealth, which is usually associated with higher level of education, which made people less religious ? Or is it the other way around, that being religious prevented people from being more educated and therefore richer. Either way, the conclusion is not very encouraging for religion.
    So, if industrialisation is the main factor behind nations’ wealth, one has to ask if it’s not because these countries were less religious and therefore became more educated so that they were able to industrialise themselves.
    And the fine point Gatsby makes destroys another flawed notion held by religious people: if we did not have religion, there would be no moral values and society would not be able to function. Scandinavian countries and a few others (Canada and Switzerland) prove that the contrary is true.

  72. Gatsby says:

    I guess my point is that to me it seems very clear that as an aggregate, the more educated and intelligent a population is, the less religions they are. And the more well educated and intelligent a population is, the wealthier they tend to be.

    It is clear that as time progresses and people “know more” about the world around them, the more absurd they think religion is. That is not to say that spirituality is not growing to fill the void.

  73. solartrix says:

    I think plotting it by per capita income is misleading. If you plotted median income the US would swing to the left side of the center divider and fall in line with the really poor countries.

  74. Ann says:

    This conclusion drawn from the survey is unscientific and flawed. First, to make a reasonable argument you need to consider all factors that can influence the outcome. Based on comparing all observations perhaps you could draw a conclusion. Second, you cannot compare income across the globe flatly in terms of 1 currency because of several reasons: purchasing power of local currencies is different, amount of tax people pay is different, and social benefits in different countries is different.

  75. UCFirefly says:

    The article points out initially that there is a correlation, but clearly one is not proven as causing the other. On the other hand, if your chief goal was being a good and honest family man, rather than making money…do you think you’ll make as much money? Everything that possesses our time has a cost, and not all of those costs are bad things.

    If I was making money 24 hours a day, I might not have time for the activities with the family I enjoy.

  76. engineerd1 says:

    I am not so hung up on coherence as to fault myself for saying that this is poll is not worthy of comment. Its sole utility is as a window into Barr’s mind.

  77. VRWC says:

    Mr Bigod,

    What is dishonest about the chart? Two things;

    First, it leaves out China…. Why?…. obviously because were they to be included, as a poor and non religious population…. the largest dot on the chart would be in the lower left quadrant, perhaps near Vietnam…. thus lending less credence to the “religion accompanies poverty” thesis.

    The omission of the world’s most populous country is a blatant attempt by it’s authors to skew the full result.

    Second, as I said, the chart is a snapshot in time…. countries acquire their wealth OVER TIME…. wealth and religiosity levels change OVER TIME, but the chart ONLY measures wealth NOW and religiosity NOW. It implies a relationship between the two that has not been proven in any way, and there is no effort to explain how either measure might have changed over the centuries.

    The chart says something, I guess, but it purports to describe a relationship between religiosity and wealth…. and in that mission it is inaccurate and incomplete at best, if not outright deceptive.

  78. VRWC says:

    Gatsby & lislilou97,

    You are both arguing against a case that I never made.

    The chart purports to describe a simplistic correlation between religious belief and poverty. For the reasons I have explained, I think the chart proves no such relationship.

    In order to prove my case, among other things, I have cited the fact that Europe gathered much of its RELATIVE wealth when it was much more religious than it is now. I think that this is self evident to anyone with a knowledge of history…. as you both seem to have.

    But, you have extrapolated from this, that I also believe the opposite…. that religious societies are MORE likely to produce wealth, and I believe NO such thing….

    I believe that the interplay between religion and economics is WAY more complicated than that…. totally different depending upon which religion, culture and period of history you are talking about….

    Which is why I think a simplistic, 2010 snapshot chart pretending to describe something affected by at least 3,000 years of history is so disingenuous.

  79. [...] affects your ability to see the bigger picture. There’s also a positive correlation between religion and poverty. Except in the [...]

  80. jebe says:

    As for China,
    the GDP per capital of Tibet is the lowest and Tibetan are very religious.
    Xinjiang has very high GDP per capita but Uighur people aren’t rich at all.
    The Muslim Chinese, Hui people, aren’t rich either. However, they are catching up as their Muslims food industry grows strong.
    I am a Chinese myself and I can tell you that the Chinese religions (Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, etc) are very money orientated. People worship God (not that one from Christianity) for getting rich. It may sounds ridiculous. For example, people promise to God that they will offer x amount of sacrifice if their (monetary) wishes were granted.

  81. [...] via More Poverty = More Religion | The Big Picture. [...]

  82. [...] More poverty = More religion. ~ Burdell [...]

  83. [...] example of multi-dimensioned visualization People find this interesting correlation between religion and poverty. Results show that the poorer the people are, the more likely that [...]