Fascinating bit of economic detective work from 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. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent. The most affluent of the major religions — including secularism — is Reform Judaism . . .

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.”

Go figure . . . The consistent thread amongst the affluent religions is education.


Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?
David Leonhardt
NYT Magazine, May 11, 2011  

Category: Data Analysis, Digital Media

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.

46 Responses to “Religion vs Education vs Income?”

  1. Conan says:

    Very interesting comparing religion to Income to College education. I would also say that there is a correlation to geographic region. For example there is a large Jewish population in New York vs a large Baptist population in the South. The regional differences in pay scales and cost of living are notable.

  2. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Who needs education when their reward comes in the afterlife and suffering in this life is the only path to that reward?

    It’d be interesting to see the incomes of the clergy/leadership by denomination. I’ll bet the inverse correlation would be shown.

  3. Niskyboy says:

    It beggars belief that Hinduism is an affluent religion. Poverty is widespread in India, with nearly half of all children under five being undersized for their age due to lack of adequate nutrition. The most one can say about this research is that it shows that the Hindus who live in America are successful and that is strongly correlated with their educational attainment. That’s fine as far as it goes, but so what, really — since they’re not typical of Hindus at large, why mention their religion at all?

  4. franklin411 says:

    Well, it’s a good thing we’re investing record sums in K-12 and post-secondary education.


    We are investing record sums, right? Right? RIGHT???

  5. socaljoe says:

    The article presumes causality, when only correlation is shown.

    In order to evaluate to what degree religion may be your financial destiny it is at least equally important to examine the income distribution of the populations as it is the average incomes.

    I agree, education may be the common denominator… but is it a cause or effect? Maybe it’s both… a self-reinforcing cycle… high education leads to greater income, which leads to higher education for children, leading to higher income… and so on.


    BR: The NYT article suggests both:

    “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.”

  6. Petey Wheatstraw says:


    “We are investing record sums, right?”

    Only if we privatize and let the church people handle education without interference of any kind from the heathen government.

  7. I see Barry is playing with his box of live hand grenades again

  8. I’ve seen charts like this before. I believe it broke down when measuring the size of the various religious groups. The more mainstream ones being a better reflection of society as a whole due to their size. The charts show that the more mainstream denominations are closer to the national average because they drive it

  9. Petey Wheatstraw says:


    What about Christians and Jews who live in India, or Jews who lived in Czarist Russia, Nazi Germany, Renaissance Italy, or Spain under Moorish rule? What about Christians living in the Congo, or any other 3rd world country, today?

    Context is everything.

  10. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    “The charts show that the more mainstream denominations are closer to the national average because they drive it”

    And puts those outside the mainstream further from the average precisely because they differ from the majority in their commitment to education.

    The most influential groups in our society would be Muslims, Catholics, Mormons and Lutherans?

  11. RC says:

    The widespread and deep poverty in India, home of the highest number of Hindus, is not the religion but the socialist nature of government.

    Some of the causes of India’s poverty : Centralized planning of economy, ridiculous anti-business rules, two states ruled by Communists (at least until couple of days back), polity fractured in so many different ways that it has never been seen in context of one country anywhere in the world in the history of the world.

    It is cheaper to send goods to China from western Indian port then to send goods by road to a destination just 1000 miles away. Ridiculous tax nightmare in inter state business within India.

    I could go on … but you get the point


    BR: The point of the article was that IN THE US, the correlations are . . . The key factor is not religious, but EDUCATIONAL

  12. Healthcare Actuary says:

    There appears to be a linear relationship between education and % of households with income > $75k. All this shows you is likelihood of inidividuals going to college based on religion affiliation. If anything this reinforces the presumption that there are not innate differences between religions, as education level determines ultimate success

  13. MorticiaA says:

    I find these studies intriguing, but they typically open up more questions than answers in my mind, especially the causation vs. correlation issue.

    On a related matter, Pew did a study that found the groups with the most knowledge about religion were atheists and agnostics. I wasn’t surprised at their findings.

    Freakonimics has a good related discussion: Does more education lead to less religion?

  14. dougc says:

    I remember reading somewhere that family size also correlates strongly with income. Jewish families tend to be smaller and they are better able to send their children to better colleges, Ivy league.

  15. DeDude says:

    Education is a clear driver of income and that is the real correlation shown. The question is why certain religions have higher levels of education (here in the US). Hinduism is no doubt the result of high numbers of highly educated people from India seeking and getting a new life in the US. From my limited knowledge of Jewish religion I think they do put a strong value on education and knowledge (e.g., doctors get a special high level of respect). I am not sure why the rest of the religions have this difference in % of people with college degrees, except that some of the lowest perhaps requires such suspension of reality that it would be hard to get anybody with an intellectual brain to get into those religions. As “douge” say out of control family size may also be part of it.

  16. RW says:

    When it comes to minority but extremely influential religions the Parsis of India really stand out. They are Zoroastrians (10th Century Persia) who probably number less than 100,000 but wield great influence because of their high levels of education and financial strength. Learned a bit about them when I became acquainted with a couple Parsi sisters while in college (they each read my palm but reached different conclusions). Dedication to education was nearly total, almost sacred one might say: One went on to complete a doctorate in nuclear physics; the other, something of a disappointment to her parents IIRC, settled for dual masters, one in chemistry and the other engineering, but she was interested in nanotechnology (this was back in 1970 mind you) so who knows where that wound up.

    Culture plays an enormous role in all this but it is not necessarily determinate. I worked with a statistician who claimed he could predict the probable range of college entrance scores in a student cohort if you just gave him the educational level of their mothers and the zip codes they grew up in. Never mind their religion, the actual schools they attended or any of the rest of it. As I recall he made his case or at least came near enough to impress.

  17. MorticiaA says:

    To your point – for decades Jehovah’s Witnesses eschewed college. They still do to a certain extent, just not as hard core about it.

  18. MorticiaA says:

    To your point – for decades Jehovah’s Witnesses eschewed college. They still do to a certain extent, just not as hard core about it.

  19. Petey Wheatstraw says:


    OT: I think Zoroastrianism was the precursor to monotheism — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Interesting religion.

  20. Andy T says:

    What’s that old saying about discussing religion at a party?

    Oh man Barry….

    What The Common Man says here is worth repeating.:

    “I’ve seen charts like this before. I believe it broke down when measuring the size of the various religious groups. The more mainstream ones being a better reflection of society as a whole due to their size. The charts show that the more mainstream denominations are closer to the national average because they drive it.”

    Also, in re: Hindu…I’ve got to imagine that that number is driven by the way Hindu Indians come to the United States.

    I know several Hindu Indians…they all came to the U.S. from affluent families in India in order to attend American Universities. They ended up with work visas here and eventually became citizens….and now they’re some of the wealthier people I know.

    So, for me, that one is sort of an outlier.


    BR: I prefer David’s explanation — it isnt magical thinking, it is education that in large part determines your economic success

  21. bergsten says:

    So, when Jesus comes this weekend and takes away all of the true believers (link), what does this do to the chart? Or the average IQ of the planet? Who does the work that, well, those at a higher education level and salary don’t want/have to do? Maybe this is the “hell on earth” of which they speak?

  22. RJL says:

    In other words, religion has very little to do with affluence and education is the driving factor. As Niskyboy says, India has widespread poverty despite being majority Hindu (and some would even suggest that the history of Hinduism’s caste system contributed to this poverty).

    A more interesting graph would include worldwide vice national statistics, which would show how these groups fare in all countries, especially those countries where they are in the majority (and have the most influence over national education systems). My guess is Hindu and Muslim affluence would plummet on the graph while the Judeo-Christian religions would be “up and to the right” by comparison. After all, how many highly intelligent Americans (regardless of religion) go to New Delhi or Islamabad for higher education, and then stay there for a well-paying career?


    BR: Exactly! Thank you!

  23. jdavis says:

    Very cool chart, but I must quibble with David’s comments in the Top Down column that accompanies the chart in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. David say that “overall, Protestants, who together are the country’s largest religious group, are poorer than average and poorer than Catholics.” While this may be true, it’s a little hard to tell from the chart he provides. From the chart it appears that all mainline Protestant denominations (Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians) are both wealthier and better educated than Catholics. My guess is that Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination, account for the statistic David cites about Protestants being poorer than average and poorer than Catholics, and that is not very surprising.

  24. forwhomthebelltolls says:

    Kind of surpirsed that Mormons aren’t ranked a little higher. It could be just due to my geography, but it seems that, here in New England, every Mormon I meet is both well-educated and financially well off.

  25. ToNYC says:

    “The consistent thread amongst the affluent religions is education”.
    Affluent religions is somewhere between malapropism and an oxymoron.
    Within the paradigm that matter has anything to do with spirit, you completely miss that a society that practices information arbitrage is not going to survive as well as smart monkeys spreading the news.

  26. TerryC says:

    “Go figure . . . The consistent thread amongst the affluent religions is education”.

    The consistent thread is not education, it is intelligence. More intelligent people strive to learn, expand their knowledge, get educated, earn more, rise higher in society, and want that for their offspring. That is why in the over 100 year history of Nobel science prizes that jews have won over half of them, while comprising less than 1% of the world’s people/ethic groups.

    The same goes for immigrant groups that have entered the U.S. in the last century. Some value an education, some don’t. Some groups move ahead faster, some are left behind. Religion is only part of it.

  27. gman says:

    Where would the modern Republican Party be without the Baptists, Jehovahs Witnesses and Pentecostals?

  28. DeDude says:

    Common Man, Andy T;

    The idea that the large groups end up near the average because they influence it does not explain why they are lower or higher on the curve than other groups (nor does it make the differences less meaningful or statistically significant). If they were rich and highly educated they would be “high” on the curve, above everybody else, and near the average. If they were poor and uneducated they would be low on the curve, below everybody else, and near the average. These are all % numbers. The size of a group only determine its influence on the average, not whether its more likely to place higher or lower than other groups.

  29. Greg0658 says:

    I’ll chime in .. “religion & education & income” .. and graphed from 2007 figures – the year before the world of finance heaved – so it’d be interesting restated to date

    education & income will go hand in hand in the modern day .. and in days past to an extent of understanding property rights and opportunities stated in writings .. but muscle power of years past would have been just as much of a metric to wealth .. wealth not income .. families that muscled land mass were wealthy

    the primary reason to sign-in tho .. to mention to the thread that income mass is not always wealth .. thats where religion could play into the mix not yet mentioned .. many religions push for NOT living in a term hedonism
    so a man may wish to NOT push his muscles beyond getting to the point of happiness ..

    I had one more thought on that income drive and this thread – desire to use money to save the community from ruin by outside marauders – and the Jewish have had to deal with little land mass and much in their minds to defend

    I used to believe (well-trodden) ie> labor to get cash to buy stuff that makes life fun, pretty, handsome, neat, warm & cool, dry, cozy (enough) “money is scratchy green TP / turn it into something FUN” .. I still believe / but now FUN feels like an anchor because of the loss of that muscled income wealth community

  30. Uchicagoman says:

    Speaking of which, just watched the documentary “Surfwise.”


    This Jew has an interesting perspective on “education vs. knowledge vs. wisdom”:

    Standford educated doctor turned surf guru.

  31. gman says:

    Indian Hindus have a large % of illiterates..

  32. Uchicagoman says:

    Also, none of the Paskowitz’s nine children ever went to school of any kind. They just roamed around in a camper truck thing for years across the country teaching surfing.

  33. Andy T says:



    According to this Pew study (http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-chapter-3.pdf) 75% of the people in American claim to be either Catholic or Protestant, therefore Catholics/Protestants will find themselves in the middle of most curves.

    The groups on the end of this curve are extraordinarily small percentages of the population. Looking at the Pew Research document, the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus and Jewish faith all together make up less than 6% of the population.

    So, it’s difficult to read a ton into this chart except for what was noted about education and income. But, if you wanted to make that point, why not just graph the education levels vs. income. I suppose it’s because this is more ‘provocative.’

    Would also add that there’s some ‘ethnic’ bias in some of these types of studies. For instance, most Hispanic people are Catholic. And, most black people are Protestants, usually Baptists. Unfortunately, we still have have a lot of income disparity between ethnic groups. From the wiki: “Despite advances minorities have made to exit poverty, there is still an uneven racial distribution among the income quintiles. While White Americans made up roughly 75.1% of all persons in 2000,[17] 87.93% of all households in the top 5% were headed by a person who identified as being White alone.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States)

    So, there are definitely “issues” with that sort of graph above. It’s certainly interesting to think about and ponder, but there’s A LOT more going beneath the surface of the Mr. Leonhardt’s analysis.

  34. favjr says:

    I’m not sure this is very meaningful, because it does not account for the vast or tiny numbers of Americans of the various denominations. You’ll note that the larger denominations congregate around the mean.

    The religious affiliation is more likely to be just noise around the more direct education-to-income relationship.

  35. louiswi says:

    The consistent thread amongst the affluent religions-the real consistent thread? ALL BS

  36. machinehead says:

    Which group is conspicuously missing from this chart?

    Oh, right — Orthodox Jews. Who likely would be closer to the Pentecostal and Jehovah’s Witnesses neighborhood on the chart, rather than the Conservative/Reform Jewish and Hindu precincts.

    Odd omission, no?

  37. rip says:

    @BR: Man you are looking for a fight and you just got one. I can’t believe you did this. Arrogance? Ego? Looking to kick some more people off your blog? Ever heard of tribalism? Ever heard of undeserved discrimination.

    I have known more than a few Jews in my business career and -SNIP-


    BR: Racist, anti-semitic rant deleted

    Penalty box: email address profuo2@xxxxxx.com, IP address put into comment moderation

  38. kaleberg says:

    If you choose population clusters using any sort of criterion, or even at random, you are going to get subgroups with more and less income and more and less education, but the correlation between income and education would still hold. (There is a statistical technique called “jack-knifing” that is based on this.) For example, if you simply divided everyone into 17 groups by taking social security numbers modulo 17, you’d get that education-income correlation, though I would expect it to be relatively weak since the modulo 17 groups would all be large and similar in size.

    Not only are there lots of poor Hindus in India, there are scads of poor Jews and poorly educated Jews in Israel which has lots of Jews. More than one idealistic founder of that nation argued that they were hoping that someday there would be Jews digging holes with shovels and the like. I’m probably exaggerating a bit, but this was part of Zionism. A Jewish state, they argued, would free Jews to be lazy, ignorant slobs, just like everyone else. Obviously, they didn’t want all Jews to be lazy, ignorant slobs, but they wanted the possibility.

  39. Centurion 9.41 says:

    BR, please. Fascinating? Really? What’s fascinating is:

    #1- you’re fascinated by the obvious [contrary to what most American’s think, and their penchant to make fun of the Brit’s affection for royalty, the US idolizes titles {just peruse the job openings, a three letter identifier of an online based “education” is often more valued than actual experience – and no, I’ve never been beat out for a position by some capitals after some kid’s name}

    #2 take out the Buddhists & Unitarians, the rest of those to the right of the “secular”, which btw to be true to to the various faiths describes the majority of the US – pagans, are very “tight” groups….

  40. lunartop says:

    I wonder how all these “affluent” religions approach the teaching of science?

    Aside: I continually continue to be astounded (and slightly scared) at how religious the USA is.

  41. asg749d says:

    I am not sure what the point of showing financial well being in the context of religion is, when it is clear the key factor is education.
    It has been clear for-EVER that educated people, regardless of religion, do better financially over their lives than those who are not educated.

  42. ToNYC says:

    If religion is human’s relation to a or several God or Spirit, each individual has only an atomistic relationship to others. In the resonance they share and relate as true rather than mere genetic or geographical happenstance devotees. The relationship so contraposed is deviled in the details.

  43. JerseyCynic says:

    @jdavis RE protestants

    From Correspondent Ken R. at http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmay11/opt-out-consumer5-11.html

    “In broad brush, frugality is mocked and scorned in American culture because it is extremely subversive to the dominant consumerist machine. Frugality and the work ethic have deep roots in the Northern-European-Protestant (key root:”protest”) ethos: a penny saved is a penny earned, the Lord helps those who help themselves, etc. Many other cultures from around the world share these same values.

    The connection between the Protestant ethos and Capitalism has been a given since Max Weber’s work in the early 20th century ( The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism). The key feature of Capitalism is not greed–that existed long before capitalism and flourishes in non-Capitalist societies. The key feature of Capitalism is capital accumulation, i.e. what’s left after expenses are subtracted from income, i.e. savings that can then be invested in productive assets…………”

  44. ToNYC says:

    Capitalism is a wonderful beast for humans to ride, but not become.

  45. DeDude says:

    “75% of the people in American claim to be either Catholic or Protestant, therefore Catholics/Protestants will find themselves in the middle of most curves”

    But in this analysis those 75% are subdivided into “Pentecostals” and “Baptists” and “Catholics” and “Lutherans” and Methodists” and “Prebyterians” and “Orthodox Christians” and “Anglicans/Episcopalians” – which are spread out all over the education/income spectrum. The issue of statistical significance would be determined by a t-test and given the size of the populations associated with even the small religions there is no doubt that these differences are real.

    Interpretation of the differences is another issue. You are right that there are a number of uncontrolled variables such as race and ethnic groups that have not been controlled for in this analysis. A multivariate analysis including all factors known to influence education and income levels would have been better. Even if you found a residual that could only be explained by religious affiliation there would still be the classic question of “correlation vs. causation” and “chicken or egg”. Does education level influence choice of religion or do specific religions encourage people to seek/avoid education. My guess is that there is no simple answers that explain it all.

    I think this is informative. The point here is that certain religions are associated with higher wealth and higher education levels. You could have presented this in two bar graphs one for religion vs income and another for religion vs. education. By combining them you clearly see that the reason come religions are associated with lower income is that they are associated with lover education levels. Lots of debate as to why certain religions are associated with lower education levels, but at least the graphics points you to the right debate.

  46. victor says:

    1) Secularism is not a religion

    2) Do not feel too bad for the uneducated being poorer than the educated lot. The uneducated may be poor NOW but it is documented they have more babies (higher fertility rates) than the educated ones whom they will demographically replace within a couple of generations. So, while the poor uneducated leave many descendants, the rich educated ones quickly become genetic dead ends. Yes, the meek will inherit the estates of the rich because the rich have stopped to procreate.

    3) to “gman” Many poor, uneducated are Democrats; some are Republicans, who cares?: church going humble people, especially in the inner cities and in the South. I had the honor to work with many of them: brave, simple, honest, poor, salt of the earth and uneducated. For once leave your political biases out of this discussion