Social Science Research Insights

Surprising insights from the social sciences

By Kevin Lewis

April 6, 2008

Do conservative values and conservative economics go hand in hand? A sociologist looked at broad surveys of Americans to find out whether conservative Protestants – the 25 percent of the population belonging to churches that emphasize a literal reading of the Bible, personal conversion, and social activism – accumulated more wealth than other people. The data indicated that conservative Protestants actually accumulated less wealth during their lives; their estimated median net worth was less than half of what it was for the general population. Conservative Protestants do give more of their income to church, but they are also less likely to pursue higher education, they are more likely to have earlier and bigger families, and women are less likely to work. It may be that religious differences can explain a significant portion of economic inequality in the United States, the author says.

Keister, L., “Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty,” American Journal of Sociology (March 2008)
Boston Globe 6 April 2008