Over at Half-Sigma we have a few quips regarding some statistic reported by Audacious Epigone. The statistics purport to correlate economic success with religious denomination. Now, the economic conditions were based on household income whereas religious views are those of the children. This assumes that children share the religious views of the parents to attempt to correlate economic success with religious denomination. On the surface, this would appear to be a safe assumption, however, it is not one that may hold through time. Regardless, on the list, the Jewish faith appears at the top of the list, and we atheists at the bottom. This is further contrasted with marriage and cohabitation rates reported by the Pew Religious Landscape Survey. Mormons are at the top at about 74% and we atheists are at the bottom around at around 50%. This doesn’t fit with my own anecdotal experience. Many of the atheists I know are financially successful and quite a few (such as myself) are happily married. I’m willing to concede though, that my circumstances may be somewhat unusual for the U.S. (yes, I suspect there is a strong cultural component to this as well). The author of the original paper is from Denmark, so I’m not sure where the sampling was actually done.
The opinions concerning this study, quipped on Half-Sigma are:
This is not surprising. Atheists are less desirable sexual partners. I observed this once when I was living in Washington, DC, and I wandered by an atheist convention happening on the mall. The atheist were predominately male, and significantly uglier than average.
This is because ugly people become social outcasts, and social outcasts are more likely to be attracted to outcast movements like atheism, libertarianism, communism, etc.
So, “atheists are less desirable sexual partners”. Somehow, a lack of belief in any god results in being a less desirable partner? This is somehow corroborated by the writer’s observations of an atheist convention on the mall in D.C. Well, I guess if we want to play this game of my anecdotal evidence vs. another, I’ll have to note that Mrs. LiquidThinker is not an ugly white male, but she is an atheist. Further, with the possible exception of myself, I can’t really describe any of the atheists I know as uglier than average.
But what about the statistical data? Off the top of my head, I can think of a few possible contributing factors. First, almost by definition here in the U.S., atheists could be considered nonconformists still. There is a also lot of diversity amongst us. I even know a few atheists who do not view marriage and cohabitation as desirable, and that’s fine. It could also be that there are some who are too busy being desirable partners, or perhaps more busy with work than religious folks to settle down. Another factor is that probably not a few married couples met in church. As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the positive aspects offered by religion is the sense of community offered by churches. If an atheist is trying to be honest by not taking part in activities which he or she believes has no basis for support, this is one opportunity lost for meeting others. There are, of course, other opportunities out there, but the loss of each opportunity one would think would have some impact. Going forward, I imagine that there has not been time enough for the survey to reflect results from online dating, as an example of how this may possibly change. But, this does point out the need, as I’ve discussed before, to have more secular based social groups within our communities. Nor does this statistic appear to take into account divorce rates among the religious vs. atheist. So, we do have factors which may possibly contribute to the marriage and cohabitation statistic, without needing to jump to the conclusion that atheists are typically ugly white males, Half Sigma.
What about the financial aspects, which was the main point addressed by the survey? Again to go back to the social aspect of the church, I could well imagine that a lot of networking can be done within the churches. We know that a lot of business success is dependent on your contacts and having a good network. One must also consider that many scientists and people within academia are atheists. Typically, these positions pay somewhat less than in industry, but in my view, can be considered more intellectually (and possibly emotionally) rewarding. So in many cases, at least for many atheists I know or know about, success is not measured simply in terms of financial gain, but in intellectual achievement. What the sampling pool consisted of, I don’t really know though. I’m only speculating, of course, but these are two possible contributing factors that may work against high household incomes. The assumption again is that the religious beliefs of the children reflect those of the parents.
Of course, whether or not the religious are making more money or getting married more often does not in any way negate the fact there is simply no evidence that the supernatural claims of religion are true. Even if it were to mean making more money (which I’m not convinced it does), I’m afraid I could not live so dishonestly.
Off the top of my head, those are my reactions to the presented data, such as it is. What do readers think?