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JW SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS REVIEW

A Major Demographic Study of American Jehovah's Witnesses
Documenting their Low Educational, Occupational and Income Status

Jerry Bergman Ph.D.
 

(Investigator 86, 2002 September)


Introduction

Barry Kosmin and Seymour Lachman published one of the most extensive studies ever done of religion in America titled One Nation Under God (Harmony Books, New York 1993). This study was based on a randomly selected nationwide survey of Americans.

In contrast to many studies, Kosmin and Lachman used a large enough sample to include the smaller sects, and as a result over 700 persons in the sample claimed their religion as Jehovah's Witnesses. The results are probably similar in other Western nations such as Australia but more research is needed to determine this in detail. A summary of the basic results follows:
 

Geographical location:

The study concluded that Witnesses were "spread thinly throughout the country."
 

Race:

One of the most interesting findings was that Jehovah's Witnesses are the only major American religion in which the majority of members are from minority groups. Especially 52% were Black and Hispanic, yet the leadership (circuit overseer and above) is almost totally white. This contrasts to the Lutheran churches in which only 3% of the adherents were Black or Hispanic, Mormons 6%, Presbyterians 7%, Episcopalians 10%, and Methodists 24%. Of the Baptists, the group with the highest number of minority members aside from the Witnesses, only 31% were Black or Hispanic.

Of the Hispanic Americans surveyed, 1.7% of the 24.6% who were Protestants claim to be Jehovah's Witnesses (the same number as Methodists) and .08% of the Protestants listed Lutheran, and .07 Presbyterian. Fully 65.8% of the total sample were Catholic. Ironically, of those Witnesses who, in violation of Watchtower policy, claimed a political party preference or affiliation, 6% claimed they were Democrats and 3% Republicans. Thus, "only 9% align themselves with either of the two main political parties. Only 16% of Witnesses refused to answer the party preference question (p. 205).
 

Marriage:

Of all single males in the sample, fully .6% were Jehovah's Witnesses, of all the married males .7%, of the separated males 1.2%, and of the divorced .7%. Of all single males, 79.1% were Christian, 80.4% of separated males were Christian, and 79.5% of the divorced males were Christian. This reveals a high rate of separation, and an average rate of divorce among Witnesses (certainly not what one would expect considering Watchtower propaganda relative to how their religion keeps marriages together). No doubt much of the reason for divorce is due to divided households and the situation where when one person becomes a Witness a divorce often results.

Of the single females in the sample, .8% were Jehovah's Witnesses, of the married females, 1.0% were Jehovah's Witnesses, of the separated 1.6%, and of the divorced .8% (p. 220 -221). The largest proportion (13%) of Witnesses who live with non-Witnesses live with mates who claim no religion. Also, 6% live with Baptists, and 4% with Catholics (p. 245). The authors concluded that the Jehovah's Witnesses have a "much-higher-than-expected levels of interfaith cohabitation and intermarriage...in light of their strict theologically defined, community-oriented religious teaching" (p. 245).
 

Education:

The educational ranking of the Witnesses is very revealing. Of the 30 sects that were ranked, Jehovah's Witnesses have the least number of college graduates, only 4.7%. Educational rankings found Unitarians were at the top (49.5% were college graduates), Hindu had 47.0% (no doubt because of the large number of immigrant professionals from Hindu nations), Jewish 46.7%. The number of those involved in new religious movements was 40.6%, Disciples of Christ 39.3%, Episcopalian 39.2%, and Agnostic was 36.3% (p. 258).

The education level was markedly different for White and Black Witnesses. 67.6% of all White Jehovah's Witnesses were high school graduates, and only 4.4% were college graduates. In contrast, fully 82.6% of the Black Jehovah's Witnesses were high school graduates, and 7.6% were college graduates, a considerable difference.

The socioeconomic educational status of Black Witnesses is also considerably higher compared to White Witnesses (p. 272). For the high school graduates only those aged 18 and above were surveyed, and for college graduates only those aged 25 and above were surveyed. The authors concluded that among the religious groups with low levels of educational attainment, Blacks outperformed Whites (p. 272).

Interestingly, the national average of U.S. adults that have attended college is 48% (U.S. News and World Report, Oct. 3, 1988:71). In California, fully 64% have attended college — a rate a whopping fifteen times higher than the Witness rate of only 4.7%.
 

Economic Factors:

The mean annual household income ranking of Jehovah's Witnesses averaged a low $20,900. Only 5 denominations ranked below them, and fully 24 above. The Jewish annual income was $36,700, Unitarian was $34,800, Agnostic $33,300, Episcopalian $33,000, and Eastern Orthodox $31,500 (p. 260). In terms of property ownership, Jehovah's Witnesses ranked sixth from the bottom: 59.1% own their own home compared to 81.4% of Brethren, 80.9% of Congregationalists, and 78.1% of Church of Christ members.

The writers concluded that although Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Black Moslem sects, Jehovah's Witnesses, and holiness sects all claim to revere the Protestant ethic, these groups do not appear to be doing very well (p. 263). They add that evidently many "Jehovah's Witnesses accept low pay because they see consumer culture as false and evil" (p. 264).
 

Socioeconomic Status:

The overall aggregate ranking on socioeconomic status ranked Jehovah's Witnesses on the bottom of the 30 largest sects. This compares to Unitarian (which was first), Disciples of Christ (second), Agnostic (third), Congregationalists (fourth), and Episcopalian (fifth) (p. 262).
 

Employment:

Jehovah's Witnesses rated second to last in the percent employed full-time, 44.1%, compared to 64.1% for Hindu, 63.5% for agnostic and ironically 52.8% for Pentecostal (p. 259). One reason for the low ranking among Witnesses could be because many wives are full time homemakers or pioneers. Of the Jehovah's Witness women aged 25 to 44, 32.6% were homemakers, 24.5% worked part-time, and only 37.3% were full-time workers. Only 2.8% of the Jehovah's Witnesses in this age group were students, indicating that the low level of education attainment will continue among the Witnesses for some time (p. 275).

The authors found that the second highest student population was in the Mormons. Only 23% of Mormon women in the 18 to 24 age-category were students compared to the major exception, Jehovah's Witnesses, in which only 4% of women were students, reflecting their aversion to higher education for both sexes. This rejection of higher education becomes even clearer because "Witnesses have higher rates of high-school graduation irrespective of sex or race" (p. 275).

The researchers concluded that the lowest rates of full-time employed out of the home females were found among Witnesses (38%) and Mormons (42%), and most denominations were in the 55% to 63% range (p. 276). A gender inequality comparison in the work force revealed 2.25 male Jehovah's Witnesses for each female in the work place.

This compares to 1.34 male for each female in the work place for Eastern Orthodox, 1.50 for no religion and 1.53 for Episcopalian. Thus, they conclude that the Witnesses have the highest level of sexual inequality in employment, which conforms to the Watchtower teaching discouraging women from working.
 

Summary:

This study shows that the Jehovah's Witnesses have an extremely low socioeconomic status. I have written the authors and requested all of the data so that I can compare the SES of the Witnesses with the 100 or so groups that were identified. In spite of the Watchtower Society's recent more lenient attitude toward education, I perceive that this low SES will probably persist for some time. I also perceive that the number of minority members will also continue to increase.
 

 

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