Empirical Regularities in Religion
- American church membership has risen throughout most of the past two centuries, from 17 percent of the population at the time of the American Revolution to 34 percent in the mid-19th century to over 60 percent today.
- The fraction of the U.S. population employed as clergy has remained stable at 1.2 per thousand for the past 150years. It seems to have been on the increase since 1970 (see figure below).
- Since the 1930s, the percentage of Americans attending church every week has remained stable (only Catholic attendance dropped after the changes in the Vatican in the 1960s).
- Religious contributions have remained stable at one percent of GDP since the 1950s, which accounts for half of all charitable giving in America.
- Religion seems not to be the province of the poor or uninformed. Rates of religious belief and religious activity (in cross-sectional analyses) do not decline with income, and rise with education. But styles of religion certainly do vary.
- Most members of “extremist” sects do not show signs of mental disorders.
- College professors are less religious than the population writ large.
- Worldwide, and in America, the fastest growing sects are strict, sectarian and theologically conservative.
That’s from a 1998 review by Larry Iannaccone. I’d love to see an update. By the way, an area of study ripe for scholarship would be a public choice analysis of religious institutions – particularly of the large, dominant institutions in a country.