Income Level Affects Frequency and Content of Prayers

I am poor: Oh God, answer my prayers!

Posted May 15, 2013

On this blog, I have thus far written around thirty-five articles on various aspects of religion. In one such post, I discussed how individuals overestimate the extent to which they believe that God answers their prayers due to a bias in statistical reasoning (see here). In today’s post, I wish to continue with the prayer theme by briefly discussing a 2008 article published in Sociology of Religion and authored by Joseph O. Baker in which he investigated factors that affect the frequency and content of prayers.

Using wave 1 of the 2005 Baylor Religion Survey, Baker obtained data from a sizable random sample of American (n = 1,721) on the latter two metrics (frequency and content of prayers) along with numerous predictor (age, race, education) and control variables (e.g., Biblical literalism, religious tradition). Baker conducted several regression analyses to establish the extent to which the various predictor and control variables had an effect on the frequency and content of prayers.  For the purposes of this post, I will mainly focus on one predictor variable: income level. 

Prior to delving into the key findings, I should note that in line with the existing literature on sex differences in religiosity, 18.8% of men but only 8.8% of women never prayed. On with the results:

1. Income and frequency of prayer were negatively correlated (p < .001 or p < .01 across two fitted models).

2. Of all possible content themes, praying for one’s family was the most common topic of prayer (89.4% of respondents who prayed). Income was negatively correlated with praying about material needs, namely financial security and personal health (p < .001 and p < .01 respectively). On a related note, similar negative correlations were obtained between education level and the two material needs (p < .05 in both instances).

Bottom line: Individuals who are of lower income are more likely to pray, and they are more likely to pray for their financial security and personal health. This suggests that there is a very “earthly” element to people’s religiosity, which reminds me of the old proverb: There are no atheists in foxholes!

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