I Get By (My Money Worries) with a Little Help from My (Church) Friends

Despite the continued rebound of the economy many Americans still worry about money. Close to half report being under a “high level” of financial stress. Having enough money saved for retirement is one of the most prevalent worries. From 2009 to 2012 the proportion of Americans who are unsure if their income and assets will last through retirement rose from 25 to 38% according to a Pew study. Middle-aged Americans, those closest to beginning retirement, are the most worried about financial shortfall.

Many studies show that increased stress adversely affects overall health. Worrying about money, a significant stressor in the lives of Americans, is no different. Americans under financial stress report sleeping less, weight gain, and increased arguing with their spouse. Financially stressed Americans also report seeing their friends less often. This is an especially negative outcome due to the beneficial effects of social support consistently supported by research.

American congregations are an arena within which social ties are encouraged and religious individuals report larger social networks than the non-religious. Do the people in the pews worry about money? Do social ties within congregations reduce the propensity to worry about money? Using data from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, we can explore these relationships.

Close to 1 in 5 worshipers report worrying about finances a lot. Over half concede that they sometimes worry about finances. It appears that the people in the pews are concerned with finances.

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Are individuals in certain types of congregations less worried about money? It appears so. Worshipers in Catholic congregations are slightly more likely to worry about finances a lot compared to Mainline or Conservative Protestants. Interestingly, Conservative Protestants are much more likely to claim that “money is unimportant because God will provide.”

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Attending religious services more frequently, reading the Bible, or praying are not significantly associated with worrying less about money. However, how worshipers read the Bible does influence how they view money. Biblical literalists, those who believe the Bible should be interpreted literally word-for-word, are much more likely to believe that money is unimportant because God will provide. This leads them to report they “sometimes worry about finances” in fewer numbers than those who are not biblical literalists.

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Congregations are places where many individuals find social support. Does social support influence worshipers’ propensity to worry about money? Yes, it does. Worshipers who report having greater numbers of friends in their congregation are less likely to report worrying about finances a lot. In fact, the odds decrease 26% that worshipers with most of their friends in their congregation will report worrying a lot about finances compared to worshipers with only some close friends in their congregation.

It appears that worshipers with strong networks of social support in their congregations are better able to navigate the stress that comes with financial worries. No matter how much money worshipers make, whether they are employed full time, their age, or their religious tradition, having many close friends in church on Sunday has beneficial effects on financial stress.

In times of increasing economic uncertainty, congregations may be a place where the religious find financial, in addition to spiritual, peace.