Science on Religion

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The religious profiles of American business people

Business Guy PrayingWhen people think of American business CEOs, they often think of cold-hearted, calculating individuals who will stop at nothing to maximize profits. At the same time, especially if you live in America, they may also think of the ideal American, someone who works hard in order to achieve the American dream. Perhaps somewhere in between these two extremes lies, oddly enough, entrepreneurs' religiosity. Research by sociologist Kevin D. Doughert (Baylor University) and colleagues analyzes the religious profile of American entrepreneurs, and finds that American entrepreneurs are more likely to see God as personal, to pray more frequently, and to attend churches that encourage business.

Researchers felt that too little work had been done in investigating to what extent American businesspeople engage in religion. Famous hypotheses, perhaps the most famous being Max Weber's, stipulate that a Protestant work ethic will lead to a drive to have a successful business and ultimately a robust economy. That said, much to the researchers' surprise, no one has asked empirically how this does, or even whether it does, apply to the American business scene.

To remedy this situation, the researchers gathered data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey. The BRS, administered by the Gallup organization, randomly surveys American adults every two to three years. The researchers focused mainly on two areas: entrepreneurship and religiosity. They registered entrepreneurship simply by seeing whether respondents said they had ever started a business or are in the process of starting a business.

Measuring religiosity required looking at a wider variety of variables. Specifically, the researchers broke down religion into three factors: content, salience, and social belonging. To measure religious content, they looked at questions that asked participants about their belief in God and whether, if they do believe in God, to what extent they think God is personal. Next, to measure religious salience, the researchers analyzed questions about frequency of religious service attendance and frequency of prayer. Finally, to measure social belonging, the researchers checked to see whether participants belong to a dominant religious tradition, and whether their place of worship encourages starting a business and/or making profit.

Entrepreneurs had both similarities and differences with non-entrepreneurs regarding religion. For similarities, both entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs believe in God, believe that God has a personal interest in them, go to religious services about monthly, and pray several times a week. As for where they differ, entrepreneurs believe in a more personal God, pray more frequently, and, perhaps most interestingly, are 1.6 times more likely to attend a congregation that supports business and profit-making.

The researchers also extrapolate that entrepreneurs’ religiosity leans towards the private rather than the public. In other words, entrepreneurs prefer to express their religion behind closed doors. This may be surprising given that entrepreneurs tend to be more extroverted than the general population.

It appears, then, that American entrepreneurs are just as religious as other Americans, and even believe in a more personal kind of God. Yet, in all likelihood, this news makes little difference to those who perceive American businesspeople as heartless profiteers. This probably has less to do with the entrepreneurs' religiosity and more to do with the disconnect between religion and morality.

For more, see “Religious Profile of American Entrepreneurs” in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.


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