Religion in US ‘worth more than Google and Apple combined’

Faith is worth $1.2tn a year - more than combined revenues of 10 biggest tech firms in America

By Harriet Sherwood | 15 January 2016
The Guardian

The largely tax-free religion industry is one of the biggest in America, worth $1.2 trillion/year, a number that includes religious “healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.” (Photo: Lakewood interior, ToBeDaniel, CC-BY)

Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study.

The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.

Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate. More than 344,000 congregations across the US collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff and buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services.

More than 150 million Americans, almost half the population, are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Although numbers are declining, the sums spent by religious organisations on social programmes have tripled in the past 15 years, to $9bn.

Twenty of the top 50 charities in the US are faith-based, with a combined operating revenue of $45.3bn.

The report points to analysis by the Pew Research Centre which shows that two-thirds of highly religious adults had donated money, time or goods to the poor in the previous week, compared with 41% of adults who said they were not highly religious.

Grim and his co-author Melissa Grim of the Newseum Institute in Washington came up with three estimates of the worth of US religion. The lowest, at $378bn, took into account only the revenues of faith-based organisations. The middle estimate, $1.2tn, included an estimate of the market value of goods and services provided by religious organisations and the contributions of businesses with religious roots.

The top estimate was based on the household incomes of religiously affiliated Americans, and placed the value of faith to US society at $4.8tn annually.

The analysis did not take account of the value of financial or physical assets held by religious groups. Neither did it account for “the negative impacts that occur in some religious communities, including … such things as the abuse of children by some clergy, cases of fraud, and the possibility of being recruitment sites for violent extremism”.

However, it concluded, “the faith sector is undoubtedly a significant component of the overall American economy, impacting and involving the lives of the majority of the US population”.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. The conclusion we are invited to believe here is that without religion the economy would collapse so we must be thankful that religion is so prominent in the USA. If religion would disappear the services and charities mentioned would not disappear. In countries were religion is not dominant such as the northern European countries or even China, do very well without religion. What would disappear in the States is the fact that the free ride churches get from tax exemptions cost the average non-religious taxpayers money, which should be paid for by the religious people. I hope you will not let this comment disappear, Dare to show both sides of the argument.

    • I think this article just wants to shown that religion in America is a truly huge business, which uses the same strategies as other businesses do, build their brands and loyal paying members/ customers (believers) through shared values (faith) and engagement. They are selling faith, literally, and competing among themselves and with others. They bitterly fight to spread their influence wherever they can and more and more want political power – much more than they should or the Constitution and laws allow them. So, I don't think this article has intention to defend or protect religion but to describe and explain its wealth and power. I do agree with everything else you said. Thank you for your comment!

      • Big religion is a big congame; if religion were to lose its tax exemption, it would become another revenue source for the G to misuse, & be replaced by countless new scam-businesses. but the most important impact would be the loss of it ultraconservative rightwing terrorist gestapo police state robber baron influence on the political battleground. Big religion has evolved into a far too influential political weapon, causing a most dangerous blurring of the line between church and state. TAX RELIGION

  2. Then how have they not solved the homeless and starving problems yet hmm? too busy investing in sound stages, music and publications. They should be taxed. Imaging if education was invested in like churches…oh just imagine.

    • Yes, tax them, especially the ones on television. (also since they are into politics) telling their congregation who to vote for,

    • What ever money made by the religious groups. In Gods name they are making. They must help the poor the homeless people and build homes for them. Pay charity organisations to provide human services for them. Those who are struggling to pay children’s education and have no money to pay for their surgury must be supported by the religious groups. In Amerian there are many homeless people sleeping rough on the streets. The bible clearly stated about feeding the poor and homless. You will have in my father’s kingdom. The government must crack down on this.

    • I’ve never understood why churches don’t pay tax & yes if education were treated like religion they would flourish. No more dropping art because $ is short & they need a new coach!

  3. A church has a communion alter, bible, cross and liturgy. That picture is not a church. It is a buffoon fest. It is low brow entertainment for the dull of wit. A fool and his money will soon be parted and there is the proof. I would be all for conning the fools out of their money if the assholes receiving it didn't use it for evil causes such as the promotion of war, povery, disease and forced labor aka conservative values.

  4. The last study I read showed that, on average, U.S. churches were spending about 3% of their budgets on helping people outside of the church. The rest of their money is spent on recruiting more members. I have little doubt they would welcome a theocracy if it ever came up for a vote.

  5. So we have this huge homeless problem and the churches could easily solve it. How about showing your love for your God by being generous to those in need.

  6. Remember Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to god what is god’s. Too many people are ripped off by so-called religious leaders IMO

  7. Something is truly amis here. In the wealthiest country on earth with an extremely robust and wealthy religious sector that for the most part claims to follow the creed of "feed the poor, heal the sick, give shelter to the homeless, and welcome the foreign stranger" why do we have such a large homeless population, a large number of unhealthy people without access to healthcare, beggars on the street, and now detention centers (concentration camps) on our border? Why aren't religious institutions that claim these areas as their proper domain taking care of these problems, given their great wealth. If they hate the government so much (we the people) and want the government to stay out of their business then why aren't churches and religious institutions stepping forward and actually doing what they claim to be their mission?

    • I seem to remember reading that L. Ron Hubbard said that the best way to make money in the US was to start a religion, which he did: Scientology which is estimated to be worth about $1.75B with another $1.5B in real estate, and a yearly income from 'donations' of about $200M.

  8. Why do you all just share so much hate for the Christian religion? Do you even know what Christ taught? is this just "follow the leader". This article is talking about all faiths, every religion .

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