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Purpose – In this chapter, we advance research on the socioeconomic ranking of religious groups by using both income and wealth to document the rankings of the six major…
Purpose – In this chapter, we advance research on the socioeconomic ranking of religious groups by using both income and wealth to document the rankings of the six major religious groups in the United States – Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, and the religiously unaffiliated – during 2001–2007, a period marked by both catastrophic economic losses and widespread economic gain.
Design/Methodology/Approach – Drawing from the Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID), we provide descriptive statistics to explore the socioeconomic differences among the six major religious groups. In addition, we note their ownership rates and changes in wealth and income during 2001–2007.
Findings – Overall, these findings point to enduring stratification in the U.S. religious landscape. Based on median net worth, leading into the Great Recession, the six major religious groups ranked in the following order: Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Protestants, the unaffiliated, and black Protestants. At the same time, these findings point to the upward mobility of white Catholics, who increased their income and made the greatest increase in net worth between 2001 and 2007. These data also suggest a decline in the socioeconomic status of the religiously unaffiliated as compared to previous studies.
Research implications – These findings illustrate the degree to which certain religious groups have access to wealth and other resources, and have implications for how the years leading into the Great Recession may have influenced households’ vulnerability to financial shocks.
Originality/Value – We use both income and wealth to examine whether different religious groups experienced any changes in income and wealth leading into the 2008 economic downturn.
The association between religion and material well-being is fundamental to research on inequality and stratification. Broadly considered, this association includes questions about how religious affiliation and religiosity are associated with work behaviors, education, income, wealth, and related family processes. Early social sciences debated if and how these traits and outcomes are related and offered important insight into the mechanisms that might explain empirical patterns (Simmel, 1997; Sombart, 1911; Weber, 1905/1930). However, the religious landscape and the mechanisms creating religion and well-being have both changed dramatically since the early days of the social sciences. The proliferation of Protestant denominations, the changing role of Catholics, and the increased presence of other religious traditions are beyond the scope of these early works. Moreover, the relationship between religion and stratification is no longer a function of large-scale shifts in the mode of production but rather reflects changing individual and group approaches to human capital, work, and saving. In the 1960s, sociologists revived these debates, but empirical challenges and a narrowing of the discussion to focus on Protestant–Catholic differences weakened and ultimately ended the literature's momentum (Broom & Glenn, 1966; Glenn & Hyland, 1967; Laumann, 1969; Lazerwitz & Rowitz, 1964; Lenski, 1961).