Prosperity gospel believers are less likely to be entrepreneurs, study finds

Americans who believe that faithful believers in God receive financial rewards are less likely to have started their own business, according to new research that examined the impact of the prosperity gospel. The study appears the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

“The prosperity gospel has a growing following around the world. The belief that God financially blesses faithful followers appeals to many people,” said study author Kevin D. Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University.

“Our interest is the practical outcomes of such beliefs. In our study, we ask: Do prosperity beliefs make people more likely to think and act in entrepreneurial ways?”

“Our study is the first of its kind. We use a national survey of working adults to connect prosperity beliefs, human values, entrepreneurial attitudes, and entrepreneurial action. Values, by themselves and in conjunction with religious beliefs, prove to be important predictors of entrepreneurial outcomes,” Dougherty said.

The study of 1,022 working adults in the United States found that openness to change and self-enhancement values such as ambition were associated with recognizing opportunities and taking risks, which in turn were associated with starting a business.

But prosperity beliefs were negatively related to starting businesses. In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “God promises that those who live out their faith will receive financial success” were actually less likely to have started their own business compared to those who rejected prosperity beliefs.

“Prosperity beliefs do not turn average citizens into successful entrepreneurs. The relationship between prosperity beliefs and starting a business is indirect and inconsistent. Prosperity beliefs can enhance certain human values associated with entrepreneurial thinking, such as self-enhancement values. Yet, prosperity beliefs seem to reduce the impact of other values conducive to entrepreneurship, such as openness to change,” Dougherty told PsyPost.

“Interestingly, gender differences in entrepreneurship disappear for prosperity believers. Typically, men are more likely than women to start businesses in the United States. Among proponents of the prosperity gospel, men and women appear equally likely to take risks and create new enterprises.”

The study controlled for the potentially confounding impacts of gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, marital status, years worked, and other factors. But — like all research — it includes some limitations.

“Our primary outcome variable in this study is starting a new business. Future research could benefit from considering other forms of entrepreneurial activity. Perhaps prosperity believers are more innovative in their existing place of work than are persons without prosperity beliefs,” Dougherty said.

“Limitations of our sample also prevent us from examining the influence of prosperity beliefs within ethnic minority groups. For example, are prosperity beliefs associated with entrepreneurial activity for African Americans or Latinxs? Another useful extension of this research would be to test our theoretical model outside the United States. Do prosperity beliefs function differently in other countries?”

The study, “Prosperity Beliefs and Value Orientations: Fueling or Suppressing Entrepreneurial Activity“, was authored by Kevin D. Dougherty, Mitchell J. Neubert, and Jerry Z. Park.