I’m currently working on a pretty big post called “What Causes Crime?” with Unorthodox Theory from Radical Statistica (he also writes some stuff here). In doing so, I was researching the effect religiosity might have on criminality, and I thought I’d share what I found in a mini post.
I actually went in thinking I would find most studies would contradict common logic on this topic. I personally didn’t expect there to be much of an effect, if a positive one. But…
Johnson (2002) measures the effect of religious involvement in lowering African American crime rates. They find a negative, but fairly small correlation between religious involvement and crime rates. The higher the level of neighborhood disorder, the higher the effect of religious involvement – but as I stated, the relationship stays pretty small. Most trials were statistically insignificant and those which were significant were barely so (reaching p<0.06). This study provides some framework for an effect, but not a very large one.
Demond et al. (2010) finds religious youth more likely to have higher self control and this in turn causes them to be less likely to do drugs. Similar results are reviewed in Chitwood et al. (2008). Wallace et al. (2007) finds when schools are more religious, the students are less likely to engage in marijuana use, drink alcohol, and smoke cigarettes and similar outcomes are found among religious people in general.
Ulmer and Harris (2013) include race into the equation of how much religiosity affects criminality. They find that religious homogeneity results in statistically significant reductions in black and Latino criminality. They also find the higher the country’s population that is religious, the lower the crime rate is for whites and blacks. I’d note the effect size is fairly low, ranging in the r^2 range of 0.1-0.3.
Olson (1990) finds similar results to that which we have seen – church attendance is negatively correlated with criminality. They note as well this is more prominent with Protestantism than with Catholicism.
Overall, I’d note religiosity does seem to have some effect on criminality, but it’s worth being wary of the effect size of the variation and the significance. Ulmer and Harris (2013) and Johnson (2002) both found some statistically insignificant results (both of which they reported fairly.
Though when it comes to racial differences in crime rates, there seems to be an inverse correlation between religiosity and crime rates, meaning this would probably not be an explanatory factor for racial differences in crime rates. Pew Research Center (2014) finds black people are the most likely to believe in God, with mixed race people, white people, and Asian people following successively. Chatters et al. (2009) finds black people and Latinos have higher levels of religiosity (ergo more religious devotion) than white people as well.