Tuesday, February 03, 2009

So, what's religion good for?

Gallup recently released a pretty interesting poll on the importance of religion to people in different states around the country.

Over the course of last year, 350,000 people were asked "Is religion a part of your daily life?" Here you can see those states that were most and least likely to say "yes." As you can see, Massachusetts is near the very bottom of the list religiosity-wise.

Be careful not to read too much into these numbers. While they had a wonderfully large sample size, their question was really sort of weird. Religion can be part of your daily life whether or not you actually believe what that religion says, and you can believe in a religion without obsessing over it every day.

This certainly shouldn't be interpreted to mean mean that 52% of people in Massachusetts are atheists (or that 85% of Mississippians are theists, for that matter).

On top of that, there's undoubtedly more social pressure to say that religion is a big part of your life if you live in an overtly religious area, and people have a tendency to overreport their own degree of religiosity in the first place.

It's still interesting, though. For all its flaws, it does give us an idea of which states value religion more than which other states. There's even a fancy map!

Very pretty.

Anyway, this made me wonder a few things. Like how could mostly-nonreligious Alaska have elected such a Bible-thumping lunatic for governor? I don't know the answer to that one.

I also wondered how these states stack up against each other in other metrics. Does heathen New England have more Satanic orgies than pious Mississippi? Sadly, I couldn't find reliable figures on the number of Satanic orgies per state (please send them to me if you can find them, readers!), so that one will have to go unanswered. But there are others!

How about divorce? The Bible frowns on that shit.

Hmm, looking at the 2004 statistics (the most current year available), it appears that godless gay-marrying Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate of any state! Washington DC is slightly lower, but it's not a state, it's just a weird anomaly-warehouse (it also comes out at 61% in the religious listing).

Divorces per 1,000 people (2004):
    Vermont: 3.9
    New Hampshire: 3.9
    Maine: 4.3
    Massachusetts: 2.2 (the lowest in the country)
    Alaska: 4.3
    Washington: 4.3

    Mississippi: 4.5
    Alabama: 4.9
    S. Carolina: 3.2
    Tennessee: 4.9
    Louisiana: no stats
    Arkansas: 6.1 (the highest in the country)

Hmm, it sure doesn't look like those religious states are very good at avoiding divorce. Except South Carolina, which is oddly good. The rest all come in significantly higher than the heathens.

How about teen pregnancy? The Bible's pretty much in favor of knocking up young girls, but religious folks like to claim that religion helps prevent teen pregnancy anyway. Does it?

Here's the source (pdf).

Pregnancy rate of women aged 15-19 (2000):
    Vermont: 44
    New Hampshire: 47
    Maine: 52
    Massachusetts: 60
    Alaska: 73
    Washington: 75

    Mississippi: 103
    Alabama: 90
    S. Carolina: 89
    Tennessee: 89
    Louisiana: 87
    Arkansas: 93

Well damn! It looks like religion doesn't do a very good job of preventing teen pregnancy either! Not that sensible people ever thought it did, but hey, that's the stupid claim. Oddly, DC has the highest teen pregnancy and North Dakota has the lowest (probably because there's nobody around to fuck).

What else does religion supposedly prevent? Crime! Hell, it's even in their commandments! Surely the religious states will have lower crime rates, right?

Violent crime rate per 100,000 (2005):
    Vermont: 126
    New Hampshire: 135
    Maine: 113
    Massachusetts: 461
    Alaska: 632
    Washington: 346

    Mississippi: 280
    Alabama: 433
    S. Carolina: 767
    Tennessee: 757
    Louisiana: 497
    Arkansas: 529

Well, the godless states aren't totally cool (WTF Alaska?), but they're still better off on average than the religious ones. Being non-religious is no guarantee that you'll be crime-free, but religion also seems to do a pretty shitty job of keeping people from committing crime.

Okay, just one more. I searched for "what religion is good for" because I was running out of ideas, and it led me to this stupid story that claims "you are 29 percent more likely to live longer if you are involved in religion than if you are not."

Holy crap! Besides being an essentially meaningless statement, that's exciting news!

Surely we'll see something similar in our statistics, and then we'll all move to Mississippi where we will become snake-handlers, because it will increase our life expectancy.

Life expectancy in years (2006):
    Vermont: 78.2
    New Hampshire: 78.3
    Maine: 77.6
    Massachusetts: 78.4
    Alaska: 77.1
    Washington: 78.2

    Mississippi: 73.6 (lowest of any state, though stupid DC sucks worse)
    Alabama: 74.4
    S. Carolina: 74.8
    Tennessee: 75.1
    Louisiana: 74.2
    Arkansas: 75.2

Yikes! Maybe staying in Massachusetts is a good idea.

Finally, please don't confuse correlation and causation in this post. Being religious probably won't turn you into a divorced and pregnant criminal who dies young. But it certainly won't do a damn thing to prevent it.