Religion and economic prosperity; evidence from Ghana [Article]

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In Ghana, Spiritualists, Pentecostals, and Methodists earn a higher income than the Presbyterian base group, while Traditionalists earn less. Which group actually deserves a national cathedral?

It is Sunday morning, and Children are parading along dusty roads with frowned faces and a Bible under their armpit. They are accompanied mostly by women who are colourfully dressed, marching to a nearby Church or to board a minibus taxi popularly known as ‘trotro’ – in order to fulfil God’s will as prescribed in the book of Exodus, chapter 20 verses 8-10 : “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates”.

While a good number of Christians look forward to the Sabbath day sermon, an equally good proportion of businesses get busy on Sunday mornings, preparing their ‘ drinking bars’ and eateries for business after 9:00am, in time for business after  churches for churchgoers.  Other religions like the traditionalists and Muslims equally follow prescribed rules of worship. Apart from the belief in eternity and living a righteous life, other attributes and promises such as riches typically attract people into a particular sheepfold or sect in pursuit of those riches.

To interrogate this dilemma, one may attempt to understand the relationship between religion and economic prosperity. Simply put, can religion put you on a path of higher incomes or disposable income? Does this claim be enhances with the construction of a national cathedral?

Defining Religion and Wealth

The relationship between religion and incomes has been subject to academic research, practical research and public debate. High-income denotes people earning large salaries or investments offering large dividends or high interest rates or a large accumulation of capital and economic power. Religion on the other hand is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Religion, specifically the Catholic Church, is described by scholarship as the oldest institution in the western world.

National Cathedral

It traces its history back almost 2 000 years. Today there are over a billion Catholics in the world, spread over Africa, Asia, North America, South America Europe and Australia / Oceania. What binds this diverse group of people together is their faith in Jesus Christ and their obedience to the papacy. Nevertheless, do they [followers] also believe in wealth through religion? Ostensibly, some ‘men of God’, have made excessive riches for themselves. For example over 15 charismatic pastors in Nigeria own private jects ranging from 5 million US dollars to as much as 150 million US dollars in a country where GDP per capita hovers around 1 968 US dollars. Can religion stimulate higher-incomes for all and sundry?

What is the relationship between religion and wealth?

Two broad reasons explain the relationship between religion and wealth. First, a direct effect and second, an indirect effect. Three reasons account for direct effects. Intergenerations (the transfer of religious ideas and wealth from parents to children), social relations (contacts made through religious groups who provide information, capital and other resources through social networks) and orientations towards money and work are direct tenets of religion and wealth.

On the other hand, religion affects wealth indirectly through its strong effect on important processes such as marriage, decisions to have kids, women’s decision to work, and educational attainments. Religious beliefs are deeply rooted in family values, savings and career choices. For example, some churches advocate for members to take up social jobs, which to them brings a lot of blessing but may not necessarily lead to wealth accumulation.

Evidence from the US and the world

Research conducted in 2015, shows that Christians control the largest amount of wealth in the world (55%), followed by Muslims (5.8%), Hindus (3.3%), and Jews (1.1%). Irreligion or other religions hold about 34.8% of the total global wealth. In the United States, Jews ranked the most financially successful religious group followed by Unitarians. The Hindus, Presbyterian and Methodists all fall above average in terms of incomes. Jehovah’s witnesses, church of God and Seventh-day Adventists report inverse relationships with income levels.  These results stem from direct and indirect effects of religion and wealth.

Income Ranking by Religious Groups in the U.S: Medial Annual Household Income

Source: Kosmin & Keysar, 2006. Religion in a Freemarket

Evidence from Ghana

A recent Gullup poll ranked Ghana among the top 20 most religious countries in the world. In the study, 95% of Ghanaians reported themselves as a ‘religious person’. Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger, all developing countries,  easily take up the top three spots. In fact, no developed country features in the top 20 list. Ghana has a historic religious tradition. Traditional religions existed long before the introduction of Islam and Christianity. Today, Ghana is characterized by social organizations influenced by religion. Ghanaians, unlike their European counterparts, demonstrate a religious consciousness that suffuses their entire lives. Most public and private events are turned into religious ones or, at least, are accompanied by some form of religious activity.

Christianity sits at the heart of modern culture with influence over business meetings, journalism and official engagements. For example, before a board meeting in a public institution commences, the chair instructs a member or secretary to pray before official work begins. The mainline Christian churches have, since the 19th century, been more influential in Ghana’s politics than Islam or Traditional religions. Although mainline churches retain influence, there has been a  rapid growth of “charismatic” or “neo-Pentecostal” especially after 1979.

Exterior-by-Dusk of the David Adjaye-designed Ghana National CathedralThe design of the National Cathedral.

From 1993 to 2003, the number of non-Catholic and nonmainline Protestant Christians increased from 16.9 percent of the population to over 41 percent. Some researchers argue that a “common underlying world view” connects Ghanaians, which includes “spiritual healing, demon-/spirit-possession and exorcism, and communication with the spirit-world,” and “rituals and prayers that are directed against one’s enemies whether spirit or human beings”. This “popular religion” transcends not only denominational lines, but also wealth, class, and intellectual status. Charismatic churches have been able to incorporate traditional, spiritual, and pre-Christian beliefs into church activities, shaping the worldview to Christians in Ghana and in the region.

Take-home: Religion vs. wealth

Research conducted in Ghana, suggests that among Ghanaians, Spiritualists, Methodists, and Pentecostals earn higher income than the Presbyterian base group, while traditionalists earn less. Being Muslim, Catholic or Anglican results in an income disadvantage probably linked to educational attainment of individuals in the group. Clearly, there is a link between religion and wealth for all things being equal. Other variables such as gender, level of education and environment may be indirectly affected by religion which affects wealth.

Interestingly, high levels of “religiousness” does not guarantee higher incomes. In other words, the more “Christian” you become, will not double or multiply your earning, but rather the social networks and other factors may influence earnings. Therefore, if Ghana were to consider the construction of a national cathedral, then one needs to understand the philosophy behind such thinking. Will it be to boost income levels of religious people in the country or to collect revenue for the state through tourism?

Even so, it is understood that different religions behave differently with income differentials. We know according to research, that nondenomenational churches do not report higher income differentials. No wonder there has been a public outcry over government’s decision to build a national cathedral. If so, do we consider building a nondenominational cathedral or a Methodist cathedral, or an Angelical cathedral or a place of worship for Spiritualists.  If we wanted to enhance earnings then an evidenced approach would be to put up a place of worship for traditionalists – since this group according to research, report lower income levels compared to the other religions. In summary, evidence-based research should guide efforts at enhancing peoples’ level of spirituality or religiousness; else we all wallow in poverty. But who is listening?

By Dr. Hod Anyigba

The author is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Entrepreneurship at Nobel International Business School – Africa’s Premier Doctoral School. Email: profhod@gmail.com