Since the formation of the country, religion in one sense or another has played a large role in the lives of many Americans.
According to Pew Research Center data from 2014, about 70.6% of Americans identified as Christian, while 5.9% had “Non-Christian faiths” such as Judaism or Islam, although religious affiliation on the whole has been on a downward trend since the late 1950’s.
These numbers mean that almost three out of every four Americans believe in some form of theistic religion.
Countless research has been carried out focusing on the community impact of religion.
Religion can sometimes be used to mobilize people to carry out some terrible atrocities in the name of their faith such as extremism, terrorism or child abuse. This is as true in our world today as it has been throughout history. On the other hand, we do agree that at it’s core, religion can be a positive catalyst for good such as the volunteer programs that are invariably faith led and greater civic engagement.
This was recognized by the authors of the study and reiterate that “while bad news makes news, both sides are important to understand clearly.”
A study conducted in 2016 titled “The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis” by Melissa and Brian Grim from Georgetown University and the Newseum Institute focussed on determining both the cost and contribution that religion on the American culture and society.
The study states then even with conservative estimates, religious organizations generated around $378 billion per year. More than the global yearly revenue of both Apple and Microsoft combined.
What’s more, if businesses with a religious core were included, that number rises to almost $1.2 trillion annually. The study shows that when household incomes of religious Americans were also included, the total annual revenue rises to nearly $4.8 trillion – about one third of America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The authors say:
“We believe that our second estimate of $1.2 trillion is more reasonable as it takes into account the value of the services provided by religious organizations and the impact religion has on a number of important American businesses”
After further analysis, the authors found that revenue from the country’s five largest religious charities totaled up to just under $38 billion. The Lutheran Services in America, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity were studied.
Religion’s tax exempt status means that it’s fast becoming one of the country’s largest tax-free industries. Some conservative reports have estimated that Christian media outlets accounts for about $3.6 – $6.8 billion every year.
“In 2003, research estimates put the market for religious publishing and products at $6.8 billion and growing at a rate of nearly 5 percent annually. This market is subdivided into three categories: books (the largest segment, with $3.5 billion in sales and a 7 percent growth rate); stationary/giftware/ merchandise (sales at $1.4 billion and a 4.5 percent growth rate); and audio/video/software ($1.4 billion in sales and flat)”
Statista reports that revenue generated from the sale of religious books and documents totaled more than $17 billion in 2007 and dropped to $10.73 billion by 2017.
The authors concluded (under the most conservative possible estimate) that big religion’s $378 billion income is split into five categories:
- Healthcare ($161 billion)
- Local congregational activities ($83.8 billion)
- Education (such as catholic schools, $74 billion)
- Charities ($44.3 billion)
- Media ($0.9 billion)
- Food ($14.4 billion)
These results clearly show that religion and religious belief are hugely influential in American society and economy. Although religion may pave a way for some people to achieve moral acts of kindness that benefit our society, there is a very real danger of it becoming a tax-free business model, rather than a faith or charity.