Lisa Keister is a sociologist at Ohio State who is, amongst other things, an expert on wealth inequality. She has a paper in the current issue of Social Forces (available to institutional subscribers on ProQuest) on the role of religion in the accumulation of assets in early adulthood. The main finding of the paper has been attracting some commentary from various quarters. Essentially, after controlling for pretty much everything you might think of, there’s a direct effect of religion on asset accumulation. Jews “enjoy tremendous gains wealth ownership” (about three times the average) while conservative Protestants accumulate “relatively little wealth”. Mainline Protestants and Catholics are indistinguishable from one another and from the general population in this respect.
I heard Lisa present the paper at Princeton a few years ago, and gave her some comments on it. The dataset is good (it’s NLSY data) and the effect is very robust, but it’s very difficult to pin down the causal mechanism with confidence. The paper suggests a few ways in which Jewish beliefs might directly affect wealth, but there’s only so much that an individual-level analysis can tell you. Another problem, of course, is that even talking about this topic tends to make people come out in hives.