Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?

by Ryan Law, M.S., AFC


Last year the New York Times[1] published an article titled “Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?”. I have come back to this article and discussed it with several people and finally decided to write about it. The graph about speaks for itself, but I have a few comments about it.


First, the graph:



If you have a hard time reading the graph in your e-mail, you can pull up a copy online here:


A couple of notes – the y-axis shows the percentage of households with an annual income above $75,000 in each religion listed. The x-axis shows the percentage of college graduates from each religion listed. For example, among Anglicans/Episcopalians, approximately 52% have an income above $75,000, and about 52% are also college graduates. The national average of all households in America that make over $75,000 is about 30%, while about 27% of all households in America have graduated from college.


On the low end of the graph we have Jehovah’s Witnesses, with less than 20% of households making over $75,000 and less than 10% college graduates, while at the other end about 65% of Hindus make over $75,000 and about 74% have a college education.


As you look at the graph, do you notice a trend? Does it almost look like you could draw a line that would slant up and to the right and hit almost every point? With the exception of a few in the middle, and a slight dip at the end, you almost could draw a straight line. What does this mean?


First, and this is definitely worth noting, religion does seem to have a factor in how much money people make. The study, conducted by the Pew Research Group, shows that religion plays a greater role in predicting your income than the differences among states or even racial groups.


Second, college education and wealth go hand-in-hand, and some religions place a high emphasis on education.


I would be interested to seeing where atheists fit on the graph. We have one titled “unaffiliated religions” but nothing for atheists.


I would be interested to hear your thoughts about the graph. You can comment at


Ryan H. Law, M.S., AFC


Personal Financial Planning Department

Office for Financial Success Director

University of Missouri Center on Economic Education Director


239E Stanley Hall

University of Missouri

Columbia, MO 65211


573.882.9211 (office)

573.884.8389 (fax)



Anonymous said...

Amazing graphic. Tells so much with so little. I would add that this seems to overlay other economical breakdowns amongst classes, genders, and race. You could correlate the percentages of specific races with religions and I'm certain a close range would result as well. This shows how the influence of how family and household factors work against general financial guidance.

Anonymous said...

One of the very interesting issues here is that it pays no mind to whether or not those affiliated with each religion are actually "believers." I tried to differentiate for this exact question in graduate school, to determine whether higher devotion had an impact on earnings/saving habits. All I could determine was that religious service attendance increased earnings while devotion of belief was slightly negatively correlated if I recall. I would expect that result to be more solid with better data. Fascinating stuff!