Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Tishrei 5764 - October 8, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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US Study: Jews Richer Because of Religion
by Yated Neeman Staff

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 don't.

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 spiritual aspects.

"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 various faiths."

Overall, the median net worth of American Jews in the survey was $150,890, more than three times the median for the entire sample ($48,200).

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 sample.

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 this life.

In the study, Keister examined how religious affiliation related to some typical financial trajectories for Americans.

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 of Catholics.

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.


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