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Wealth, religion linked

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Religious affiliation is a big factor in how much wealth Americans accumulate, with Jews collecting the most wealth, conservative Protestants the least, and mainline Protestants and Catholics falling in between and on par with churchgoers overall in the U.S., a new study says.

The study, by Lisa Keister, associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, also found Americans who regularly attend religious services accumulate more wealth than do people who do not attend.

The median net worth of Jews surveyed was $150,890, compared to $48,200 for the entire sample of nearly 5,000 individuals — and for Catholics and mainstream Protestants, including Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Unitarians.

That compared with a median net worth of $26,300 for conservative Protestants, including Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Scientists.

Religious beliefs that children learn in their families can shape their education, occupation, financial know-how, social connections and other factors that affect wealth, Keister says.

And religious teachings in different religions can affect spending and saving, she says.

Conservative Protestants often focus on prayer, faith and an afterlife, and that focus can prompt them to invest less, she says, while Jews do not emphasize an afterlife and focus on pursuits such as high-income careers and investing that can build wealth.

“Also, it is a social network issue – a church or synagogue can be a good place to meet people with investment tips or money to loan for a new business,” says Keister.

Nearly 70 percent of American households make donations to religious groups, according to a 2002 study by Independent Sector, a membership and advocacy group for nonprofits.

More than 85 percent of households that gave to religious groups also gave to secular charities, the study says, and those households account for 81 percent of donations made by individuals overall.

Those households gave an average of $2,247 a year, compared to $623 for households that gave only to secular groups.

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