Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How Much Time Do Americans Allocate to Religion?

This past November I presented a paper at the SSSR/ASREC annual meetings that looked at the relationship between the business cycle and religiosity (see previous posting on this paper). I was privileged to present my paper in a session where Ariela Keysar and Barry Kosmin gave their paper titled "Measuring Religious Commitment and Secularization Through Time-Use Data." This paper examines the standard labor economic question of how individuals in the United States allocate their time, with special emphasis on how much time is spent on religious and spiritual activities. The study looks at allocation of time for a typical weekday as well as for the presumably religious Sunday.

This study uses data from data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey (ATUS) over the years 2003 to 2006. Ariela and Barry explain that the "ATUS asks people to keep a diary and describe in detail their daily activities, without the prompts or cues that are a feature of interviewer surveys. There is therefore no reference to religion or any other domain. This methodology reduces over-reporting of religious practice by minimizing the tendency towards a social desirability bias that has been identified as a problem of many surveys of American religion especially of Sunday worship." This study, therefore, provides a more robust measure of religiosity in America than past studies.

Okay, what exactly do they find? Here are some key excerpts:

"The average American spends a total of 3 minutes on 'religious and spiritual activities' on the normal weekday. This is because only 4.4% of the population actually reports participating in this form of behavior. Among this small minority of participants, 1.12 hours on average are actually spent on religious activities. Weekdays are for work and ATUS confirms this. The average American spends 4.55 hours working on the normal weekday. Participants in work are 58% of the adult population and among these workers the time spent on work related activities averages 7.81 hours."

3 minutes a day? Wow! If us highly religious Americans spend only 3 minutes on average a weekday on religious and spiritual activities, then what is the time spent on religious and spiritual activities in other advanced economies that are less religious?

"This imbalance between work and religious activities on ordinary weekdays is to be expected though the actual figures are stark. One can assume that Sundays will be much different. Sunday is historically the Lord’s Day and a day of rest when government and educational facilities are closed as are many business establishments. Indeed the average American spends a total of 33 minutes on religious activities on a Sunday that is 11 times the amount of a weekday. In fact 25% of Americans attend Sunday worship services; more that 6 times the weekday norm. The average worshipper spends 2.06 hours on religious activities on a Sunday. Sunday is evidently the time for religion but participation at the beginning of the 21st Century is very much a minority interest."

Here again, I wonder what is the time spent on religious and spiritual activities on Sundays in other advanced economies?

"The ATUS findings indicate that the pattern of the traditional American Sunday has changed and the U.S. is becoming a more secular society."
Below are two tables from the paper.

So even on Sundays, religious and spiritual activities are far from the most important activity. In fact, the work category on this 'holy' day is allocated more time. One discussant made the point that maybe these numbers understate/overstate the quality of time allocated to each activity. This point made me wonder if it were possible to have a positive productivity shock to religious and spiritual activities? If so, less time would be needed to generate the same religious and spiritual outcome. Could this possibility explain some of the relatively low share of time allocated to religious and spiritual activities?

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