Increased religiosity in countries affects attitudes toward sexual morality, study shows

October 02, 2003

When a nation's overall levels of religious belief and attendance are high, its citizens voice greater disapproval of divorce, homosexuality, abortion and prostitution -- issues involving sexual morality. But religiosity is less likely to spur such disapproval for cheating on taxes or accepting bribes in public office, says two Penn State researchers.

Dr. Roger Finke, professor of sociology, says that religiosity, both on the societal and individual level, is far less likely to discourage thoughts about giving the government false information, accepting bribes while in public office, buying stolen goods or avoiding a public transportation fare. In these cases, people tend to be deterred less by religious beliefs and rituals than by secular laws that apply to believers and nonbelievers alike.

"This is not to say that religious people are MORE inclined to cheat on their taxes," Finke adds. "What our findings DO show is that individual and overall country levels of religiosity have only a minimal effect on the tendency to cheat on taxes because a government prohibition is already in place."

The researchers' analysis defined religiosity not as a vague spiritual feeling of oneness with the universe but a set of beliefs and rituals centering on a personal, all-powerful and morally concerned God or gods. Such is the situation in countries where statistical analysis reveals high levels of religiosity (e.g. the United States, the Philippines, Poland, Nigeria, India).

Finke and Amy Adamczyk, doctoral student in sociology, presented their findings recently at the annual American Sociological Association conference meeting. The two researchers used data from the 1998 International Social Survey Program (ISSP) "Religion" module and the 1997 World Values Survey (WVS), also international in scope. Their sample consisted of 46 nations and 63,158 individual participants.

"In nations with lower levels of religious activity (e.g. Sweden, Denmark, Japan, the former East Germany), the positive influence of individual religiosity on sexual morality will be reduced," Adamczyk notes.

Penn State

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