Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Religious Inequality in America

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Abstract:  Sociology has largely ignored class differences between American religious groups under the assumption that those differences “are smaller than they used to be and are getting smaller all of the time” (Pyle & Davidson, 2014, p. 195). This article demonstrates that profound class differences remain amongst American religious groups. These differences are as large as—or larger than—commonly examined forms of inequality such as the gender pay gap and the race achievement gap. Using the most popular categorization of American religious groups, we find that regardless of the particular measure examined (years of education, income, socioeconomic index score, and proportion of members with at least a bachelor’s degree) Jews and Mainline Protestants are at the top of the socioeconomic ladder and Evangelical Protestants, both black and white, are at the bottom. Furthermore, religious group significantly predicts both years of education and the overall socioeconomic standing of respondents by itself with basic controls. Likewise, both socioeconomic indicators and education significantly predict the likelihood of being in a specific religious tradition on their own with basic controls. Some religious groups, namely Evangelical Protestants at the low end and Jews and the high end, are relatively educationally homogeneous. Others, such as Catholics, Mainline Protestants and the nonreligious are much more educationally heterogeneous. The picture is the same when socioeconomic heterogeneity is examined, except that Mainline Protestants emerge as more clearly advantaged socioeconomically. In sum, religious inequality remains in America, it is robust, and it appears to be quite durable.

Keywords:  class; education; inequality; race; religious tradition; social class


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© Melissa J. Wilde, Patricia Tevington, Wensong Shen. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.