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Religion in the US – A Sociological Overview (With Lots of Visuals)

May 5, 2010 by and tagged ,

First, compared to the rest of the world, the US is more religious than other rich countries but less than poorer countries:

Represented in a scatterplot, it is clear that the US is an outlier compared to other high-income, post-industrial countries:

In a bar chart form, this is how US religiosity compares to other countries:

At the same time, there is a great deal of diversity in religiosity within the United States:

One can establish a definite correlation between wealth and religiosity both between and within countries. In the United States, these differences take place in the context of high religiosity for a wealthy country.

Similarly, there is diversity in the type of denominations to which Americans belong (based on the 2000 census):

This picture illustrates both clustering and diversity. There is a great level of diversity in the number of (mostly) Christian denominations but there is quite a good amount of clustering, that is, of denominational predominance in different parts of the United States.

Similarly, there are major differences along the different dimensions of religiosity:

Here again, the Southern stand out. What could explain such differences by state, beyond economics and wealth? The table below reveals other correlations:

Does religion cause social ills? This graph mostly shows correlations rather than cause and effect. But what research has shown is that social insecurity is strongly correlated with higher religiosity. The Southern US states tend to be economically and socially more insecure, and therefore, more prone to higher religiosity.

Different denominations also attract different kinds of people, for instance, based on wealth (definitely click on the image below for a much larger view):

Here again, there is a strong correlation between wealth and chosen denomination.

What happens to religiosity over time? Have Americans’ religious views and practices changed over the past decades? Have different generations different levels of religiosity?

The following graphs point to a generational decline:

Posted in religion, Sociology | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Religion in the US – A Sociological Overview (With Lots of Visuals)”

  1.   Ritch Says:

    The article “Sellers or Buyers in Religious Markets? The Supply and Demand of Religion” described the relationship between existential security (demand) and the trends of secularization (supply) in post-industrial nations. The basic premise is the more insecure a population is the more religious it will be. Insecurity is measured by poverty, wealth gap, social safety net and basic survival topics. This secularization theory explains the secular/religious trends in the post-industrial world (including the US).

    The researchers found that their premise was viable. There is a connection between the supply and demand (noted in first paragraph) in post-industrial nations. The US is different from most post-industrial nations because its religiosity has remained a high rate and shown little decline in the past fifty years. The US fits because it has one of the highest rates of existential insecurity in the post-industrial world. The US has a tremendous wealth gap, a tiny social welfare net, and high homicide rates (to name a few examples). The study points out why atheist rates have remained low in the US while climbing in other post-industrial countries.

    The researchers did a tremendous amount of quantitative research. They used Gallup, World View Survey, US General Social Survey, World Bank, United Nations, GINI co-efficient, Human Development Index to put together diagrams, maps, graphs, and tables to illustrate their hypothesis. The researchers also noted a great deal of literature to discuss the need for a new secularization theory (qualitative research).

    Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2006). Sellers or buyers in religious markets? The supply and demand of religion (1). The Hedgehog Review, 8, 1-2. p.69(24).



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