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Religious Attendance Relates to Generosity Worldwide

Religious Attendance Relates to Generosity Worldwide

by Buster G. Smith and Rodney Stark

WACO, TEXAS -- Gallup data reveal that adherents of all the major world religions who attended religious services (attenders) in the past week have higher rates of generosity than do their coreligionists who did not attend services (non-attenders). Even for individuals who do not affiliate with any religious tradition, those who said they attended religious services in the past week exhibited more generous behaviors.


These findings are based on Gallup surveys conducted from 2005-2009 in 145 countries, which asked individuals about whether they in the past month donated money to a charity, volunteered time to an organization, and helped a stranger. It has long been known that in the United States, religious attendance is associated with higher rates of volunteering and monetary donations, but the global data suggest the relationship exists in almost all countries.

For all three measures of generosity, those who attended religious services in the past week were more likely to say they engaged in the behavior than those who did not attend. The largest difference is for volunteering, which increases from 18% for non-attenders to 26% for attenders.

The differences in generous behaviors between attenders and non-attenders are consistent within the vast majority of individual countries. Statistical analyses of each of the 145 countries were run to examine the statistical relationship between the measures of generosity and religious attendance. In almost 90% of the countries surveyed, there was a statistically significant positive relationship between attendance and donations based on gamma values of the cross tabulations.

Similarly, in 87% of the countries surveyed, a positive relationship existed between volunteering and attendance, while this was the case in 73% of countries surveyed in regards to helping a stranger. This suggests that the association between generosity and attendance of religious services is not dependent upon characteristics of a particular country, such as wealth or development, but rather a robust relationship globally. This research extends the findings of Pelham and Crabtree by demonstrating that a positive association between religiosity and charitable behavior exists within the vast majority of countries. What is less clear is whether it is religiosity in all its forms or only religious service attendance that holds such a relationship.

Generosity Worldwide by Religious Salience

The effects of religious attendance on generous behavior are much stronger than whether religion is important to an individual. Of those who reported that religion was important part of their daily life, 30% said they donated money in the last month, as compared with 29% of those for whom religion was not important. Similar findings exist for helping strangers and volunteering time. In all three cases the differences associated with religion being important to the respondent are smaller than those between religious attenders and non-attenders.

Furthermore, when examining individual countries, in 62% of countries surveyed, there is a statistically significant positive relationship between donating money and subjective religiosity among individual respondents. A significant relationship is even less common with volunteering, existing in 38% of the countries. Similarly, helping a stranger is positively association in 48% of the countries. While religious attendance has a consistently positive relationship with increasing the generous behavior of individuals, it is far less common that simply viewing religion as important has such an effect.


Generosity Among the Religiously Unaffiliated by Attendance

This relationship between religious attendance and increased charity is true across all the major world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. At the same time, the effects of religious attendance on generous behaviors are not limited to the religiously affiliated. Even for the religiously unaffiliated, religious attendance is associated with a higher likelihood of respondents saying that they have donated money, volunteered, and helped a stranger. In particular, volunteering increased from 19% to 29% among secular respondents, while donating goes from 28% to 36%. While these activities may be associated with the additional opportunities that religious organizations provide for donating money and time, the same relationship exists for helping strangers. Although helping strangers is not always a behavior that religious organizations directly facilitate, 44% of secular respondents who attended such services engage in such activities, but only 40% of non-attenders said the same.



Studies on the relationship between generosity and religiosity have been largely confined to examinations of developed countries. Gallup data make it possible to expand these analyses to countries in all regions of the world, while showing that a positive relationship between the two behaviors is very widespread. Furthermore, this positive relationship exists when controlling for typical sociodemographic characteristics of individuals, including gender, age, and marital status. These data also clarify the ways in which certain types of religiosity, such as attendance at a religious organization, are more closely associated with generosity than other measures such as the subjective importance of religion in one's life.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Buster G. Smith is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion. Rodney Stark is the Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with more than 240,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted between 2005 and 2009 in 145 countries. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±2.2 percentage points in Russia to a high of ±4.4 percentage points in Trinidad and Tobago. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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