More Pew Analysis: American Muslims Young, Not Wealthy

In a previous post, I had examined the Pew U.S. Religious Landscapte survey, and had mentioned that according to this survey, there are not as many American Muslims as we usually say there are and that American Muslims are a very diverse group (ethnically and racially) as far as religions in the U.S. go, Alhamdulillaah.

 Another comment that is often made is that Muslims in the U.S. are a wealthy or well-off coummunity.  Now, certainly wealth is a relative concept.  Muslims in the U.S. are certainly wealthy compared to Muslims in many other parts of the world.  Often the comparison that is being made is that American Muslims are wealthy compared to European Muslims.  This seems to be universally agreed upon, although I don’t have data on income or wealth of European Muslims.  In fact, it is a consistent theme of sympathetic commentary on European Muslims that they are a poor and discriminated against minority….and a consistent theme of unsympathetic (bigoted and Islamophobic) commentary that European Muslims are parasites living off European welfare systems.

 Pew, itself, released a big report entitled “Muslims, Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream.”  Now, Middle Class is a famously vague term (almost everyone thinks of themselves as ‘middle class’) but the data clearly shows that relative to other religious groups in America, Muslims are not very rich.  In fact,  there is a higher percentage of Muslims making less than 50,000 a year (59 percent) than any other religious group besides Historically Black Protestant Churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Twenty Six percent of American Muslims make more than 75K a year, compared to 31 percent of Americans in general.  (65 percent of Hindus, 58 percent of Jews, and 39 percent of Buddhists make up 75K).  This is a comparison of income, and obviously because Muslims are a small community with a high percentage of more recent immigrants, if one were to look at wealth accumulation, I suspect Muslims would be even further behind other groups.

As I mentioned above, the affluence of the Muslim community is often mentioned in relation to the potential threat Muslims pose to the country.  It is thought that American Muslims have not become terrorists because they are relatively comfortable in this country or this is put forth as evidence that American Muslims are well integrated and not discriminated against in America (at least not economically).  Again, all these questions are relative and so I am not saying those who make these statements are wrong or dishonest.  But, as anyone who knows the Muslim community knows, they are only telling a part of the story.  There are large segments of the Muslim community including much of the Blackamerican and Latino Muslim community as well as large numbers of recent immigrants or immigrants who came to this country without professional skills or educations, who struggle econmically here in America.  These factors contribute to the paucity of strong Muslim institutions in this country relative to other religious groups. 

Muslims are also the youngest religious community in America, with 77 percent of American Muslims under the age of 50.  (76 percent of Hindus are under 50, 66 percent of  Mormons, 63 percent of Buddhists and 60 percent of Jehovah’s witnesses).  Guessing based on the religious groups that scored high in this category, the youth of Muslims is probably mainly a function of the fact that a high percentage of Muslims are immigrants, who tend to be younger, and possibly also contributing is the number of converts to Islam, who also tend to be younger.  Also, American  Muslims tend to have a lot of children relative to the average American (15 percent of Muslim families have three or more children at home — this is compared to 9 percent for Americans in general.  The only religious group with more children at home were Mormons, 21 percent having three or more.)

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3 Responses to “More Pew Analysis: American Muslims Young, Not Wealthy”

  1. Brendan Says:

    One point that moves me to quibble: I don’t have any data on this, but from a feeling generated by personal experience and reading, I think that one factor that you overlooked in your analysis of the Pew survey regarding Muslim income is this: many people convert to Islam while in prison.

    I think there’s no dispute about the statistical likelihood of people with prison records tending towards lower income. The only uncertainty is how many of these people contributed to the Muslim demographic that Pew measured.

    I hope you know me well enough to know that I’m not making a value judgment here. I’m just being skeptical about the statistics. It is my guess that Muslim immigrants, separated out from indigenous (and hence, indigent) people, make more money than the average American. This would fit in with my impression of immigrants in general: they tend to do better because they represent the cream of the crop of the countries whence they came; i.e., we have the happiness of having the go-getters living here in the U.S.

  2. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Brendan,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I don’t think there’s any disagreement between us here.

    I mentioned in my post that there are segments of the community which tend to be wealthier (skilled immigrants) and segments which tend to be less wealthy. I am still surprised that Pew did not find higher income figures for Muslims because my assumption is that a survey like this would not be able to reach the poorer segments of the Muslim community (which would include a lot of Blackamericans in inner cities and more recent immigrants who don’t speak English well). So, I guess I am kinda assuming that if all segments were included the numbers for Muslims as a whole would go even lower but perhaps I am understimating Pew.

    I know this is not what you are trying to do, but I would be concerned about an underlying assumption that I think sometimes results in the whole “American Muslims are wealthy” meme and which could also be read into your comments such that if Immigrant Muslims are relatively wealthy compared to indigenous Muslims that somehow Immigrant Muslims are the “real” Muslim community and therefore American Muslims are wealthy.

    Like I said, I don’t think we have any disagreements regarding the survey, and you’ve actually teased out some of my assumptions that I didn’t necessarily articulate. But I do think that, separate from this survey, and something I’ve learned from years of experience in inner city Muslim communities is that such communities are strikingly poor and the institutions of those communities are very few and even those that exist are tremendously underresourced. Even wealthier immigrant communities are just starting to really build effective institutions for different reasons. Overall, I think most people that have experience in Christian or Jewish communities here in the U.S. would be shocked at how little in terms of infrastructure American Muslims really have — which is probably a good topic for a separate post.

  3. Brendan Says:

    Abu Noor:

    That’s a good point to keep in mind, what you said about making unconscious assumptions about “wealthy immigrants.” I don’t think I do that, at least not to a fault, but it’s something to keep in mind. I do, however, tend to think of the average immigrant (independent of religious or other affiliations) as more of a go-getter, just from contemplating what’s involved in picking up stakes and moving to a new place.

    I’m sure you’re right about a lot of indigenous American Muslims. On the other hand, there’s no need to restrict consideration to that group alone. There are all kinds of people who were born here who have similar a similar lack of infrastructure. It’s natural to be more aware of concerns among one’s own in-group, and no one can fix everyone’s problems, but it’s something to keep in mind.

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