Get access

The Religious Context of Welfare Attitudes


  • Tom VanHeuvelen

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Sociology, Indiana University
    • Correspondence should be addressed to Tom VanHeuvelen, Department of Sociology, Indiana University, 744 Ballantine Hall, 1020 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405 USA. E-mail:

    Search for more papers by this author

  • Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank Brian Powell, Robert Robinson, and Art Alderson for their steady mentorship on this project, and the 700 Working Group for its valuable feedback.


This article examines the influence of three dimensions of religion—belonging (faith tradition membership), behaving (frequency of service attendance), and context (one's relationship to aggregate population characteristics)—on attitudes toward multiple forms of state-provided social protection, or welfare attitudes. To do so, this article uses data from 17 countries surveyed in the 2006 “Role of Government” wave of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). Results from mixed effects regression show that contextual effects are highly predictive of welfare attitudes. Nations that are more religiously heterogeneous are less supportive of state protection, while nations that are more homogeneous, particularly Catholic nations, are more supportive. Results hold net of fractionalization, political institutional measures, and economic characteristics. At the individual level, all three dimensions of religiosity are predictive of welfare attitudes. These patterns suggest that in rich Western democracies, religion continues to play an important role in structuring the moral economies.