February 12, 2009

The Global Middle Class

Chapter 2. Religion and Social Issues

Across countries and regions, the middle class is more likely to embrace more secular and more tolerant principles. Among the 13 countries in this study, religion was generally less important in the personal lives of middle class respondents, and they were less likely to say that believing in God is a prerequisite for a moral life. In addition, the middle classes were more inclined to believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society.

Importance of Religion in Your Life

In nine of 13 countries, religion is more central to the lives of lower-income citizens. In some cases, the differences between income groups were quite large. For instance, 86% of lower income Malaysians said religion is very important in their life while 60% of the middle-class expressed the same view.

While smaller, the differences among income groups in Mexico and Poland were still substantial. Nearly half of lower-income Mexicans (48%) and Poles (46%) said religion is very important in their lives while only about one-third among the middle class in both countries agreed (Mexico 33%, Poland 32%).

Solid income-group differences also were found in Argentina (12 percentage points), India (12 points), Chile (10 points), and Bulgaria (7 points).

Most people across the income spectrum in Egypt and South Africa indicated that religion is very important to them. Roughly eight-in-ten South Africans stated that religion is very important to them, while just over six-in-ten in Egypt expressed this view. By contrast, few among either income group in Ukraine and Russia considered religion very important.

Faith and Morality

In almost all of the countries in the analysis, the middle class was more likely than the less-wealthy to say that it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. In more than half of the dozen countries in which the question was asked, the differences between the income classes were more than ten percentage points.

In Argentina and Mexico, nearly six-in-ten among the middle class believed it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral, while only about four-in-ten of the less well-off embraced the same view. In Venezuela, few among either class embraced the secular notion that morality is not tied to faith; still, members of the middle class were more likely to hold this view.

In Poland, a country where the vast majority of the population is Catholic, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) among the middle class said a belief in God is not necessary to have good values; 63% among poorer Poles felt the same.

To the contrary in Bulgaria – another former communist country – most among both groups expressed the view that morality is not tied to religious belief, though the wealthier were more likely to express this view than the less well-off.

Few among either income group in South Africa or India embraced the idea that it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral. Roughly one-third in both income groups in India held this view while less than one-quarter from both groups did so in South Africa.

Should Homosexuality be Accepted?

Tolerance of homosexuality varies widely across the 13 countries, still the middle class is generally more accepting than those with less income.

Middle-class publics in two Eastern European countries were particularly inclined toward accepting homosexuality as a lifestyle. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) in the Polish middle class expressed a belief that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 41% of the less well-off agreed. Half of the Bulgarian middle class said that it should be accepted, while one-third (34%) of the less affluent concurred.

Income-group differences also were found in South Africa (14-percentage-point gap), Ukraine (11 points), Russia (11 points) and Malaysia (10 points). However, in these countries, few among either group said society should accept homosexuality.

Income-group differences were slightly smaller in Mexico (10 points) and Chile (9 points), and in these nations large majorities across income groups embraced a tolerant attitude toward homosexuality.

There was virtually no difference of opinion in Brazil, where tolerance of homosexuality is high. In Argentina, at least seven-in-ten are tolerant of homosexuality, and lower-income respondents are slightly more tolerant. There also was shared opinion between lower and middle income groups in both India and Egypt, where tolerance for homosexuality is very low.