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Religion And Mobility

Richard Florida has an interesting post on the Atlantic’s “Cities” Web site playing with some new state-level data from Pew about economic mobility. Wealthier states tend to have higher mobility, and poorer states tend to have less. 

False Consciousness Watch: The least mobile states are all located in the solidly Republican South (though, to be fair, Utah, one of the more mobile states, is pretty Republican, too, and North Carolina and Florida, two of the least-mobile states, went for Obama in 2008).

Great Gatsby Curve Watch: The inverse relationship between income inequality and economic mobility observed at the country level by Alan Krueger, chairman of the White Council Council of Economic Advisers, is quite a bit weaker at the state level (according to some calculations by Catherine Rampell of the New York Times). More inequality still correlates with less mobility, but not to anywhere near the same degree.

What really caught my eye, though, was Florida’s observation concerning religion. “The percentage of adults who say they are ‘very religious’ according to Gallup polls is negatively associated with national relative upward mobility (-.51).” Since wealthier states have more upward mobility, Florida’s observation would appear, at first glance, to contradict Charles Murray’s observation, in his recent book, Coming Apart, that people living in the more-affluent neighborhoods that Murray calls “SuperZips” are much likelier than people living in working-class neighborhoods to attend church regularly. But that assumes that people who go to church more often are also more likely to call themselves “very religious.” And the thrust of Murray’s book is that the affluent, while more conservative than the working class in their habits, are also more diffident than the working class in voicing allegiance to conservative values. The people likeliest to attend church every week are not necessarily the people most likely to tell a pollster that they consider themselves to be “very religious.” Conversely, the people likeliest to call themselves “very religious” are not necessarily the people who most reliably get to church on Sunday. 

A smug atheist reading of Florida’s number-crunching would be that people who go to church a lot are less likely than people who don’t to move up the economic ladder. But a more accurate reading, I think, would be that people who who go to church a lot are morelikely to move up. It’s the people who bend your ear about how much they love Jesus who are less likely to move up (and who are also less likely to attend church regularly). The irony is that it’s these zealots who want to claim an exclusive right to call themselves Christian.