The Rich Tend To Be Less Religious

A recently published study found that 84 percent of people consider religion to be an important part of their daily lives. A strong relationship exists between a country’s socioeconomic status and the religiosity of its residents – the richer the country, the less important religion is to its population. However, there are some exceptions, including Estonia.

The wooden 17th century church on the island of Ruhnu, home to only 56 people, is empty. So are most of the churches in Estonia, as only 16 percent of the country's population is religious. Image credit: Toomas Tuul.

According to the study conducted by the Gallup Organization, which was based on surveys in 114 countries in 2009, only 47 percent of populations in the richest countries (those with average annual per-capita incomes above $25,000) claimed that religion was significant to them. In the poorest countries of the world, with average per-capita incomes of $2,000 or less, the proportion that said that religion was important in their daily lives was 95 percent.

Each of the most religious countries is relatively poor, with a per-capita GDP below $5,000. There are, however, some exceptions to the rule. For example, USA is one of the wealthiest countries in the world; however, despite their income, Americans are surprisingly religious (with as many as 65 percent regarding religion as important). The group of high-income religious countries also includes Greece, Italy, Singapore, and the rich Persian Gulf oil states.

In contrast, Estonia isn’t one of the world’s richest nations, but among all of the countries surveyed globally Estonians showed the lowest percentage of those who attached significance to religion (only 16 percent of Estonian residents said that religion was important in their lives).

As with Estonia, the majority of inhabitants of other European countries  attached little importance to religion. In Sweden, 17 percent of residents said that religion occupied an important place in their daily lives. In Denmark, the figure was 19 percent, in the UK, 27, and in France, 30. The Gallup analysts attribute the low religiosity of Estonians to its Soviet heritage and the decades of suppression of religious expression by the government.

The most religious countries in the world are: Bangladesh, Niger, Yemen, Indonesia, Malawi, and Sri Lanka. In these countries religion plays an important role for 99 percent of the population.

Social scientists have put forth numerous possible explanations for the relationship between the religiosity of a population and its average income level. One theory is that religion offers emotional support to the world’s poorest countries by helping many residents cope with the daily struggle to provide for themselves and their families.

What do you think? What would your explanation be? Please let us know in the comments!

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