A new analysis from the Pew Research Center focuses on how much money various religious groups earn, and clearly, members of certain religions are much more likely than others to be wealthy.
But don’t assume that converting to a new religion is going to somehow boost your income. The real takeaway from the data is probably a message you’ve heard many times over: Higher education is the path to higher earnings.
According to data collected in a huge 2014 Pew study, 44% of American Jews live in a household with total income of $100,000 or more. That’s the highest rate in the nation, followed by Hindus (36%) and Episcopalians (35%). These three groups also had high representations in the $50,000 to $99,000 income bracket. Altogether, roughly 70% of members of the Jewish, Hindu, and Episcopalian faith have household incomes of $50,000 or above.
Before you reach any conclusions about theological beliefs correlating with income levels, bear in mind that educational achievement seems to play the key role in how much money people earn. Presbyterians, Evangelicals, and Methodists are also among the groups with high percentages of households with $100,000+ incomes, but so are Atheists and Agnostics. One-quarter or more of each of these groups boasts six-figure incomes, and “members of all these groups also are more likely to be highly educated than the general population,” Pew researchers explain.
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Meanwhile, about 20% of Mormons, Muslims, and Catholics have $100,000+ household incomes, which is roughly the same rate across all U.S. adults. Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to have the lowest incomes of any religious group, with only 4% earning six figures and nearly 50% earning less than $30,000 annually. Two historically black church groups, the National Baptist Convention and the Church of God in Christ, are also at the low end of the income spectrum, with nearly half of households earning under $30,000.
In a way it should come as little surprise that Jews and Hindus tend to have the highest earners. After all, they also tend to be exceptionally well educated. A previous Pew study revealed that 58% of American Jews are college graduates, and 28% have post-grad degrees—compared to rates of 29% and 10%, respectively, for all U.S. adults. Hindus have even higher rates of higher education, with 85% holding college degrees and 57% with some post-graduate education, according to a 2012 study.
Atheists tend to be better educated than the general population as well, with 43% holding college degrees. Roughly the same percentage of agnostics (42%) has attained college degrees, compared to one-quarter of Catholics and Protestants.
As for Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of its most prominent members—the late Prince—is the exception in that he was extraordinarily wealthy. Still, Prince was typical of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that he had no college degree; 63% of members have no more than a high school education. At least Prince had a pretty good excuse: He signed a record deal and released his debut album by the time he was 19.