Religion is big business in the United States.
And religion in the United States today contributes a combined $1.2 trillion to the economy and society, says Faith Counts, the group behind the research. That is well more than Apple and Microsoft combined.
This mid-range estimate puts the value of religion to U.S. society at over $1 trillion annually according to the findings published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion.
The study was conducted by Georgetown University's Brian Grim and the Newseum's Melissa Grim and was sponsored by an organization called Faith Counts, which promotes the value of religion.
The 31-page breakdown shows how religion contributes to the U.S. economy and is titled, "The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis."
It provides the first documented quantitative analysis of the economic impact of 344,00 congregations along with the impact of religious institutions and businesses.
"For the first time, we have been able to quantify what religious institutions, faith-based charities, and even businesses inspired by faith contribute to our country," said Brian Grim, co-author of the study, who spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Sept.14.
Grim observed that "in an age where there's a growing belief that religion is not a positive for American society, adding up the numbers is a tangible reminder of the impact of religion."
The study's most conservative estimate, which takes into account only the revenues of faith-based organizations, is $378 billion annually – or more than a third of a trillion dollars.
MORE THAN APPLE AND MICROSOFT
That estimate is more than the global annual revenues of tech giants Apple and Microsoft combined.
While this first estimate has the most concrete data, "we believe that it is certainly an undervaluation because it focuses on annual revenues rather than on the fair market value of the goods and services religious organizations provide," the authors say.
The second mid-range estimate attempts to correct for this in two ways: by providing an estimate of the fair market value of goods and services provided by religious organizations, and by including the contribution of businesses with religious roots.
This mid-range estimate puts the value of religion to U.S. society at over $1 trillion annually.
"Our third, higher-end estimate recognizes that people of faith conduct their affairs to some extent (however imperfectly) inspired and guided by their faith ideals," say the authors.
This higher-end estimate is based on the household incomes of religiously affiliated Americans, and places the value of faith to U.S. society at $4.8 trillion annually, or the equivalent of nearly a third of America's gross domestic product (GDP).
The research all finds that despite declining religious affiliation in the U.S. population, religious organizations have tripled the amount of money spent on social programs in the last 15 years, to $9 billion.