Saturday, June 06, 2009

Does atheism make a person wealthier? Atheism might be associated with higher or lower income. Religious folks, for example, might network more which might translate into better money-making opportunites. On the other hand, non-believers might earn more for some reason. Perhaps they see more clearly how one achieves Y and are less encumbered with irrational thinking. Maybe belief and income are unrelated. Myself, I suspect skeptics make a little more because they tend to be smarter.

The GSS asked white Americans about their income and belief in God. I regressed personal income on belief and added Wordsum as a control:

OLS Regression Coefficients (Betas), N = 587

Atheist -.05
Agnostic .07
Believes in higher power -.02
Believes sometimes -.05
Believes but sometimes doubts .08
IQ .18**

** p < .01, two-tail test

The five belief variables are dummies, and the reference category is those who know there is a God. Before IQ is entered into the model, agnostics and believers who sometimes doubt earn significantly more than those who have no doubts. But as you see above, there is no significant assocation between belief and income once IQ is controlled.

So, agnostics and believers with doubts make more, but only because they are, on average, smarter. Atheists do not have higher incomes, even at the bivariate level. This, in spite of the fact that they are more intelligent. Maybe the networking does pay off. Or perhaps disbelief is associated with other characteristics that work against economic success: lack of social skills, for example.


  1. Anonymous10:50 AM

    I've always been under the impression that atheists - true, professed atheists, as opposed to agnostics - tend to be quite socially maladjusted. Many pathologically introverted nerds, that sort of thing. It's not hard to see how social maladjustment can depress incomes even when I.Q. scores are high.


  2. I've found similarly. I think atheism generally correlates with willingness to shirk social norms. Basically, atheists don't care that religion is such an entrenched aspect of culture. They go strictly on science rather than ignoring the logical inconsistencies of religion for the inclusion in a religious social community (e.g. opposite to the apathetic Christians who go to Church just to hang out with friends). This denying or complete ignorance of social norms can have grave consequences in job settings and social relationships.

  3. I got my first 'real' job because the ladies at church told my mom about an opportunity they had heard about from friends overseas. A pretty long daisy chain which would not have existed had my mom and I not been members in good standing at that church.

  4. silly girl4:49 PM

    From this kind of data, it is hard to tease out the different shades of atheists. There are the true intelligent skeptics who just don't believe. Then there are contrarians who don't believe and make a big deal out of it.

    Most people are annoyed by people pushing their beliefs onto them whether they are religious zealots or anti-religion zealots.

  5. In regards to silly girl's comment:

    What about those that claim to be atheists but shouldn't be considered in the same category as the intellectual atheists? Intellectual atheists are generally the kind most associate with atheism: the white male, nerdy, scientific, skeptical personal like Dawkins (well he's not nerdy). But then there are individuals who proclaim their atheism, but believe in all sorts of voodoo, ghosts, and other supernatural crap. They could very well be depressing the average income results because they're assuredly insane.

    Though I'm not sure what proportion they consititute of the atheists. I would imagine it's too small to make a difference anyway.

  6. silly girl1:22 PM


    Yeah, I just mean that some people just use reason to come to an atheistic view, not that they are ultra smart nerds. I know plenty of smart successful people who are fun to be around, social etc. who are that type.

    Sure there are idiots who are religious, but I think we know enough people to know that religion is cultural so both smart and dumb are religious. Certainly people like Newton, Euler and Ramanujan were not irrational idiots just for having been religious.

    Likewise, espousing atheism doesn't make you a genius. So sometimes arrogant, ignorant people try to use atheism as a bona fide to show they are smart or rational like the intelligent atheists when they are not. These are the same people who say they "believe" in science, even though science isn't based on belief but on evidence. So there is nothing to "believe". It is empirically verifiable. And as you say, there are some who actually believe some supernatural stuff while still claiming atheism. Go figure.

    As atheism becomes more mainstream, more people who are less rational will embrace it.

  7. 1) Atheists may not need as much money -- fewer kids, no religious schools or churches to support.

    2) Networking.

    3) Values. Atheists may be (ironically?) less materialistic than most theists.

    And what OneSTDV said. If I'm willing to give up the only community I've ever known by following what I think is the truth, how likely am I really to pretend that the boss's jokes are funny or to act like the perfect corporate cog?


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