It won’t surprise you to know that the poorest nations in the world are also the most religious. (When you don’t have money, believing that God is watching over you and that there’s a wonderful afterlife in store for you can be very comforting.) Likewise, the richest nations in the world are the least religious.
In fact, there’s only one real anomaly, in which a very rich nation is also extremely religious.
You know exactly who it is.
As it turns out, the U.S. is the only country out of 102 examined in the study that has higher-than-average levels of both prayer and wealth. In every other country surveyed with a gross domestic product of more than $30,000 per person, fewer than 40% of adults say they pray every day.
One idea popular among modern sociologists for a number of decades held that America’s unregulated and open religious “market” — where different faiths compete freely for new members without government interference — has fostered fertile ground for religious growth.
Separation of church and state, many have argued, has benefitted both sides.
That chart doesn’t suggest that poor people are necessarily more religious, but that richer nations have less of a collective need for religion. Indeed, in the U.S., rich people tend to be just as religious (or non-religious) as the poor.
There’s another way to compare these variables, though, so that the U.S. is no longer an anomaly. If you look at income inequality versus religiosity (instead of using per capita GDP), the U.S. falls right in line with everybody else. That is: People tend to be more religious when there’s a wide gap between the wealthiest people and the poorest.