Although Christianity in general has become less practiced in the United States over the last two decades, one form of Christianity claims to have become more popular. It’s the Prosperity Gospel, a theology that preaches that God will reward people who become Christian by making them financially wealthy.
This claim, unlike so many claims made by religion, is statistically testable. If there really is a God, and God really makes Christians more financially successful than they would otherwise be, we ought to be able to find statistics that show that Christians are more wealthy than nonChristians.
In order to test the Prosperity Gospel hypothesis, I looked at a combination of two measures. First, I looked at the American Religious Identification Survey, released just a few weeks ago. The ARIS measured the rate of Christianity among residents of the lower 48 states. Then, I placed that information next to the average median income measured by the Census Bureau from 2005 through 2007, the most recent information available.
Placing these two sources together results in the scatter plot graph you see here:
Each blue dot represents one of the 48 contiguous states in the USA. Those further to the right are the more Christian states. Those higher on the graph are those states that have a higher average median wealth.
As you can see, there’s a pattern in the distribution of the states. Those states that have the highest percentage of Christian residents have the lowest median income.
The 10 states with the highest percentage of Christian residents had an average median income of $42,297.07. The 10 states with the lowest percentage of Christian residents had an average median income of $53,194.54. The 10 states with the lowest percent of Christians had on average a 65.1 percent Christian population. The 10 states with the highest percent of Christians had on average a 85.3 percent Christian population. So, you could argue that every percent increase in Christian population costs state residents on average about 500 dollars.
These statistics contradict the hypothesis underlying the preachers of the Prosperity Gospel. If you’re hoping to increase your income, or at least to weather the economic recession, seeking the divine intercession of God doesn’t seem to be the way to go.