The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis
This article summarizes the first documented quantitative national estimates of the economic value of religion to U.S. society. Specifically, the study provides conservative, mid-range, and high estimates. The study’s most conservative estimate, which takes into account only the revenues of faith-based organizations, is $378 billion annually – or more than a third of a trillion dollars. By way of economic perspective, this is more than the global annual revenues of tech giants Apple and Microsoft combined. While this first estimate has the most concrete data, we believe that it is certainly an undervaluation because it focuses on annual revenues rather than on the fair market value of the goods and services religious organizations provide. Our second mid-range estimate attempts to correct for this in two ways: by providing an estimate of the fair market value of goods and services provided by religious organizations, and by including the contribution of businesses with religious roots. This mid-range estimate puts the value of religion to U.S. society at over $1 trillion annually. Our third, higher-end estimate recognizes that people of faith conduct their affairs to some extent (however imperfectly) inspired and guided by their faith ideals. This higher-end estimate is based on the household incomes of religiously affiliated Americans, and places the value of faith to U.S. society at $4.8 trillion annually, or the equivalent of nearly a third of America’s gross domestic product (GDP). Finally, we discuss the limitations of this study and suggest several possible lines of research that could build upon and extend this research.