Mainline Protestants and Catholics are about the same as the
general population average in terms of overall wealth but
that of conservative Protestants is half of the average. The
average net worth of American Jews is three times that of the
general population, according to a new national study by Ohio
State University on religious affiliation and wealth.
The Ohio State sociologists also found that people who attend
religious services regularly build more wealth than those who
Lisa Keister, author of the study and associate professor of
sociology at OSU, maintained that religious beliefs have
consequences for educational attainment, adult occupations,
financial literacy, social connections, and other factors
that influence level of wealth. The study considered the
secular and material aspects of belief, meaning how they
impacted people's behavior in life. It did not consider the
"The effect of religion is robust, even after taking into
account inheritances, levels of education, and other factors
affecting wealth that may be associated with particular
religious denominations," she wrote in the September issue of
the journal Social Forces.
"Religion is an important factor in wealth accumulation, a
factor that hasn't received a lot of attention," Keister
said. "The results suggest people draw on the tools they
learn from religion to develop strategies for saving,
investing, and spending, and those tools may be different in
Overall, the median net worth of American Jews in the survey
was $150,890, more than three times the median for the entire
The median net worth for conservative Protestants (which
included Baptists, J. Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and
Christian Scientists, among others) was $26,200.
The median net worth of mainstream Protestants (including
Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans,
Unitarians and others) and Catholics were similar to each
other and about the same as the average for the whole
The study also found that people who regularly attend
religious services tend to be more wealthy.
"It seems strange. Why should it matter whether you go to
church in terms of building wealth?" Keister said. "But going
to religious services may be another opportunity to be
indoctrinated with beliefs that help build wealth. Also, it
is a social network issue. A church or synagogue can be a
good place to meet people with investment tips or money to
loan for a new business."
Religious teachings of different faiths may influence
spending and saving strategies in a variety of ways,
according to Keister.
For example, conservative Protestants often emphasize prayer
and trust in G-d, which may reduce their desire to invest.
Conservative Protestants also look forward to the rewards of
the afterlife and don't promote acquiring wealth as good for
In the study, Keister examined how religious affiliation
related to some typical financial trajectories for
For example, only one percent of Jews remained asset poor
throughout life, compared to 15 percent of conservative
Protestants, 9 percent of mainline Protestants and 7 percent
The most common trajectory is to buy a home relatively early
in life and then accumulate other assets, such as stocks and
bonds, later. About 35 percent of Jews followed this path,
compared to 3 percent of conservative Protestants, 22 percent
of mainline Protestants and 20 percent of Catholics.
Jews stood out in a third trajectory in which people invest
early in life in high-risk, high-return assets such as stocks
and bonds and build wealth quickly while putting less
emphasis on owning a home. About one-third of Jews followed
this path, compared to no conservative Protestants, 7 percent
of mainline Protestants, and 4 percent of Catholics.
Keister emphasized that religion is only one of many factors
that influence wealth. This research is part of a larger
series of studies Keister is doing to explain why some people
accumulate more wealth than others.
She said that once she began studying wealth, the impact of
religion stood out plainly.