Examining who gives, helps, and advises in Americans’ close networks
Markus Schafer finds that Americans are more likely to receive social support from religious traditionalists in their social networks. I think that studies like this should make us seriously question civil liberties groups that argue the government should never be allowed to provide any kind of aid to religious groups, given the positive externalities they provide (of course, you’d want the laws to be neutral and generally applicable, rather than picking specific religions).
A large literature is currently contesting the impact of religion on prosocial behavior. As a window into this discussion, I examine the close social networks of American adults and consider whether religious traditionalists are more likely than other network members to supply several basic forms of social support. Analysis of the Portraits of American Life Survey reveals three main findings. First, a majority of Americans—religious or not—count at least one perceived religious traditionalist among their close network ties. Second, American adults are more likely to receive advice, practical help, and money from ties identified as religious traditionalists than from other types of ties, a pattern that held among both kin and nonkin network ties. Finally, although perceived traditionalist network members appear especially inclined to assist highly religious people, they nevertheless offer social support to Americans across a broad spectrum of religiosity. Beyond its relevance for debates on religion and community life, this study also proposes a novel strategy to assess prosocial behavior. Asking people to recount the deeds of their network members can reduce certain self-reporting biases common to survey research and helps locate prosocial activity in concrete and meaningful social relationships.