Religious change in America between 2000 and 2010

Results from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census show religious changes in America between 2000 and 2010:

The 2010 U.S. Religion Census, released May 1 on the Association of Religion Data Archives, found that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gained the most regular members in the last 10 years, growing by nearly 2 million to a total of 6.14 million adherents in 13,600 congregations…

  • Taken together, nondenominational and independent churches may now be considered the third largest religious group in the country, with 12.2 million adherents in 35,500 congregations. Only the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are larger.
  • The U.S. was home to 2,106 mosques nationwide in 2010. The figure includes 166 mosques in Texas, 118 in Florida and 50 Muslim houses of worship in North Carolina…

Mainline Protestant churches lost an average of 12.8 percent of adherents in the first decade of the 21st century; 5 percent fewer active members were found in Catholic churches.

There is an explanation for this growing diversity toward the end of the article: the religious economy approach. This school of thought in the sociology of religion suggests that religious groups in the United States have to compete for adherents, sharpening the appeal and “marketing” of some of these groups. This takes place because of the separation of church of state which is a contrast to state churches in Europe that tend to stifle religious competition.

Some of these changes are also interesting at the local level. For example, Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in Illinois and there are now more Muslims in the Chicago area than Methodists. [The actual numbers for this second fact are not in this online story but were in the print version of the newspaper.]

End of the conversation about affordable housing in Winnetka

I highlighted earlier this year (original post in March, update in April) a public discussion taking place in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka over affordable housing. After a vote last night, Winnetka has decided to table this discussion:

The six trustees were evenly split on a resolution to take several Plan Commission recommendations off the table. Village President Jessica Tucker broke the tie by supporting the resolution to drop talks about the issue.

The Plan Commission began studying affordable housing in 2005, and in April offered its recommendations to diversify the village’s housing stock by encouraging rental apartments and coach houses, as well as sub-market rate condominium units in qualifying future developments.

On Tuesday, village trustees cited a Winnetka Caucus survey in which a majority of respondents opposed affordable housing by more than a 2-to-1 margin…

The three most controversial components of the plan were “inclusionary” zoning, a housing trust fund, and a community land trust. After being sent back to the advisory panel for more consideration, plan commissioners voted to withdraw their recommendation regarding a community land trust.

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. Wealthier suburbs, like Winnetka, often don’t desire affordable housing because of connotations the term has with poorer residents, lowered property values, and a diminished community image.

The Winnetka Caucus Survey is interesting in of itself. As the Causus notes, “One out of every four households in the village completed this survey.” This is not exactly a representative sample although this isn’t terribly different than the percentages of people who tend to turn out for local elections across suburbs. Here is how the survey gave background for the affordable housing questions:

Beginning in 1979, the Winnetka Plan Commission identified the need for modest-priced housing for seniors,
young families, and those who work in the community. For a variety of reasons, over the ensuing years
Winnetka lost many rental units and restrictions on renting coach houses further impacted the stock of modest priced housing. In 2004, the State of Illinois enacted the Affordable Housing Act, and under it Winnetka was required to file an affordable housing plan. However, in 2005, Winnetka adopted Home Rule and asserted its rights to have local control over the affordable housing issue. That same year, Winnetka filed an Affordable Housing Plan with the State declaring that Winnetka would assert its Home Rule authority and not be subject to the State’s standards for Affordable Housing. The Village Council instructed the Winnetka Plan Commission to conduct further studies and propose a customized affordable housing plan for Winnetka. The resulting proposal from the Plan Commission includes zoning, code changes and other options to foster the availability of modest priced housing. It expands its vision to establish a program to set aside some units as affordable housing units and creates tools that bridge the affordability gap for qualified households. This Affordable Housing program is limited to multi-family units within Winnetka’s commercial districts and includes preferential access to these units for long-time residents and those who work in the community. Because of the higher affordability standards, it would not qualify for state or federal affordable housing funds or fit under Section 8 housing. The new program would engage local government – either the Village Council or an appointed agency – in housing issues, as the new administrator would determine (according to the program’s guidelines) who may live in these affordable housing units and at what cost. Resources would be required to manage the program and properties on a permanent basis (i.e. forever) and, potentially, to purchase property. Further, the program would require developers of multi-family projects to dedicate a portion of their units to the Affordable Housing program in which the units would be sold or rented at below-market “affordable” rates.

On the whole, respondents were against the village getting involved in these housing issues with 85% of respondents saying “It is not appropriate for Village government to be involved in determining who can live here and what prices can be charged for housing in Winnetka” and similarly negative responses to specific pieces of the affordable housing proposal (pages 5-10 of the PDF). Interestingly, there was also strong support (over 60%) for Winnetka needs more affordable housing options for seniors” and “Winnetka needs more affordable housing options for those who work in the community.” Providing this kind of affordable housing is more of “workforce housing” for which some suburbs openly advocate. So if people want these housing options but don’t want the affordable housing proposal run by the village, how exactly might this get done?

Despite the low number of people who completed the survey, the Winnetka Caucus Council has a long history and likely is an influential force in the community.

Sort this out: poll of 39 economists suggests “30% chance of recession”

Polling economists about whether the country is headed for a recession does not seem to be the best way to make predictions:

The 39 economists polled Aug. 3-11 put the chance of another downturn at 30% — twice as high as three months ago, according to their median estimates. That means another shock to the fragile economy — such as more stock market declines or a worsening of the European debt crisis — could push the nation over the edge.

Yet even if the USA avoids a recession, as economists still expect, they see economic growth muddling along at about 2.5% the next year, down from 3.1% in April’s survey. The economy must grow well above 3% to significantly cut unemployment…

The gloomier forecast is a stunning reversal. Just weeks ago, economists were calling for a strong rebound in the second half of the year, based on falling gasoline prices giving consumers more to spend on other things and car sales taking off as auto supply disruptions after Japan’s earthquake faded. In fact, July retail sales showed their best gain in four months.

But that was before European debt woes spread, the government cut its growth estimates for the first half of 2011 to less than 1%, and Standard & Poor’s lowered the USA’s credit rating after the showdown over the debt ceiling.

Here is what I find strange about this:

1. The headline meant to grab our attention focuses on the 30% statistic. Is this a good or bad figure? It is less than 50% (meaning there are less equal odds) but it is also double the prediction of predictions three months ago. Based on a 3 in 10 chance of a recession, how would the country and individual change their actions?

2. This comes from a poll of 39 economists. One, this isn’t that many. Two, how do we know that these economists know what they are talking about? How successful have their predictions been in the past? I see the advantages of “crowd-sourcing,” consulting a number of estimates to get an aggregate figure, but the sample could be larger and we don’t know whether these economists will be right. (Even if they are not right, perhaps it gives us some indication about what “leading economists” think and this could matter as well).

3. How much of this is based on real data versus perceptions of the economy? The article suggests this is a “stunning reversal” of earlier predictions and then cites some data that seems to be worse. These figures don’t determine everything. I wonder what it would take for economists to predict a recession – which numbers would have to be worse and how bad would they have to get?

4. Will anyone ever come back and look at whether these economists got it right?

In the end, I’m not sure this really tells us anything. I suspect it is these sorts of statistics and headlines that push people to throw up their hands altogether about statistics.

God gets good job approval ratings in recent survey

I’m not sure why Public Policy Polling decided to recently include these questions in a mid-July survey (just to make comparisons with current politicians and Rupert Murdoch?) but here is how Americans rate God’s job performance:

While many polls have asked what Americans’ beliefs are about God, there has been little measurement of voters’ evaluation of its performance. It turns out, if God exists, voters would give God a strong 52-9 approval rating. This is hardly a surprise considering the vast majority of the country believes in an infallible deity, but some of the crosstabs are quite interesting.

There is a considerable age divide on God’s approval with those 18-29 approving 67-18 compared to a 40-6 approval rating among those over 65. What jumps out from this divide is not just that young voters are more likely to be critical of the job performance of the omnipotent figure, but that they are considerably more likely to voice their opinion. Only 15% of those 18-29 said they were unsure whether they approved of God, while 54% of those over 65 said they were unsure. This could indicate that the youth is much more comfortable answering silly questions about religion while the elderly feel a question on God’s approval is taking religion too lightly. There is also an ideological divide over God’s performance. Those who identify as very liberal approve of God 54-18, while those who identify as very conservative are almost uniform in their approval, 61-4.

God also performs well on some of the issues it could be responsible for if it exists. God scores its best rating on its handling of creating the universe. The big bang may be messy, but most voters must feel it gets the job done as they give God a 71-5 rating on the issue. As for the animal kingdom, if God exists it may have been off its game when it evolved up the giraffe’s laryngeal nerve, but perhaps the elegant Monarch butterfly makes up for it as voters give God a 56-11 rating on its handling of animals. As one would expect, God’s worst ratings are on its handling of natural disasters; however, Americans may feel the occasional earthquake or hurricane builds character as voters give God strong marks, rating it 50-13.

These figures seem pretty high but they are rather vague questions. If you are going to ask these questions, why not add a few more: do you feel God has treated you fairly lately? Do you think God has blessed the United States? Which political party do you think God would side with more? Do you feel that God approves of your job performance in life?

Maybe these figures do indicate some generational and political gaps. There are also some differences by race as African-Americans are more likely to approve of God’s performance. Or perhaps these figures don’t tell us much of anything. PPP could start asking this question more regularly and track the data over time.

It would be interesting to follow these questions by asking respondents why they gave the rating they did. Were respondents afraid to give God negative ratings?

Also, how come there is no indication of how many people didn’t answer this question since it starts with “If God exists”? Cross-tabs give us percentages but we don’t have Ns for the categories or cells.

Survey shows majority of Chinese are religious

Although China may have an official policy in favor of atheism, a large proportion of Chinese citizens are religious:

No more than 15 percent of adults in the world’s most populous country are “real atheists.” 85 percent of the Chinese either hold some religious beliefs or practice some kind of religion, according to the Chinese Spiritual Life Survey.

Members of the Chinese Communist Party and Youth League are required to be atheists, yet 17 percent of them self-identified with a religion and 65 percent indicated they had engaged in religious practices in the last year, reported sociologist Fenggang Yang of Purdue University, a lead researcher in the project.

The notion of China as a secular nation with little or no religion is “silly,” said sociologist Rodney Stark of Baylor University, another principal investigator…

In a nation with few sources of independent data on religion, the spiritual life survey represents one of the best pictures to date of the Chinese religious landscape. The 2007 survey involved a random national sample of 7,021 people ages 16 and older in 56 locales throughout mainland China.

The results find a middle ground between the official government figure of 100 million religious believers and extreme projections of growth that estimate the number of Christians has become as high as 130 million.

Interesting findings. You can look at the dataset here.

How exactly these religious beliefs among the people come into conflict with the official governmental policy would be interesting to explore within this data.

What may look like a decent survey is lacking generalizability, military officer edition

The latest issue of Atlantic has an interesting article discussing why a number of US military officers are leaving the military. The argument: the military is too bureaucratic and doesn’t practice meritocracy so the brightest and more entrepreneurial officers leave for other fields.

All of this is interesting but I was struck by the data used for the article. Here is how the author describes the surveys he conducted and draws conclusions from:

In a recent survey I conducted of 250 West Point graduates (sent to the classes of 1989, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2004), an astonishing 93 percent believed that half or more of “the best officers leave the military early rather than serving a full career.” By design, I left the definitions of best and early up to the respondents. I conducted the survey from late August to mid-September, reaching graduates through their class scribes (who manage e-mail lists for periodic newsletters). This ensured that the sample included veterans as well as active-duty officers. Among active- duty respondents, 82 percent believed that half or more of the best are leaving. Only 30 percent of the full panel agreed that the military personnel system “does a good job promoting the right officers to General,” and a mere 7 percent agreed that it “does a good job retaining the best leaders.”

This sort of paragraph is very helpful and is toward the front of the story. And the numbers look overwhelming, particularly the first cited figure about 93% believing the best officers leave early.

But there is an issue here: the generalizability of this data. The article suggests surveys were conducted with 250 officers spread across six graduating classes (presumably to help control for time effects). But does this represent West Point graduates on the whole? Does this even represent each graduating class? If one looks at the class page for the graduating class of 2004, there were almost 1,200 entering students. Even if a decent amount leave before graduating, this is a lot more than the 40 or so that would have been surveyed if we had equal representation out of the six graduating classes (250 total surveys divided by six graduate classes).

This does not necessarily mean that these survey results and their interpretation are necessarily wrong. But it should cast doubt: does this survey really speak for all West Point graduates or even more broadly, military officers as a whole? While conducting some sort of survey is better than simply working with anecdotes one hears from officers veterans, this survey could still be improved so that the results could be generalized to all officers. We need a larger N of officers to survey in order to have results that we could really trust.

Untangling the effects of income on happiness

Examining the relationship between income and happiness can be tricky. A recent research study, conducted by two Princeton researchers and summarized by LiveScience, is illustrative of some of the issues in this research field:

-The researchers were working with a large dataset that is built around a daily survey of Americans: “they analyzed more than 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a daily survey of 1,000 U.S. residents conducted by the Gallup Organization.”

-Changes in income were measured in terms of percentages rather than absolute numbers. This was done to reflect the fact that a percentage change in income would be better for comparisons across income types. As the researchers note: ““In the context of income, a $100 raise does not have the same significance for a financial services executive as for an individual earning the minimum wage, but a doubling of their respective incomes might have a similar impact on both.”

-Survey respondents answered questions related to two measures of happiness: overall life satisfaction and what their emotions were the day before. According to the LiveScience article: “For life evaluation, participants indicated on a scale from zero to 10, from worst to best possible, how they would rate their lives. For emotional well-being, participants answered yes/no questions about whether they had experienced various positive and negative emotions a lot during the prior day.” Having both of these dimensions is critical as a general question about happiness might be interpreted differently (do the reseachers mean happy right now or overall?) by respondents.

-Some of the findings: having a “Low income seemed to magnify the emotional pain of life’s misfortunes, including divorce, illness and loneliness.” However, there was a tipping point of $75,000 where having more money didn’t help improve one’s well-being:

The researchers suggest that making anything more than $75,000 no longer improves a person’s ability to spend time with friends, avoid pain and disease and enjoy leisure time – all factors involved in emotional well-being.

“It also is likely that when income rises beyond this value, the increased ability to purchase positive experiences is balanced, on average, by some negative effects,” they write. For instance, a past study revealed a link between high income and a reduced ability to savor small pleasures, the researchers noted.

This tipping point of $75,000 is above the median income in the United States. I would be curious to know if individuals feel this tipping point when their income does rise to this level – are they cognizant of this point? Or once they reach $75,000, are they still locked into a mindset that having more money will lead to increasing levels of well-being?

Also, this $75,000 point could be quite fluid. Over time, this point would change based on economic conditions and cultural understandings of what is a “good income.”