A new study published in interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion said that religion contributes more to the US economy than Facebook, Google and Apple combined.
The research undertaken by Brian Grim, an associate scholar with Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and his daughter Melissa Grim, a research fellow at the Newseum.
The report's estimate put the economic contribution of religion to the US at about $378 billion per year. It took into account sectors including healthcare, local congregational activities, education, charities, media, and food. The figure excludes the retail sales at Christmas because they are not associated with organized faith-based groups.
The statistics were concluded after an analysis of annual reports from religious organizations, and other public data from the year 2014.
"Given the division of opinion on religion's contribution to American society, this present study seeks to shed light on the topic by making an estimate of religion's socio-economic value to society," the Grims said in the study.
The authors found that the annual tuition fee paid to religiously affiliated higher education institutions amounted to a whopping $46.8 billion, while elementary and secondary school payments figures were also significant at $15 billion and $12 billion respectively.
Apart from the economic impact of faith-based educational institutions, their report also underscored the social achievements of such schools.
"Faith-based elementary and secondary schools make a distinctive contribution to the education of the Nation's children that public schools have been unable to match. In 2015, the combined average SAT score for students from religious schools was 1596 points, or 134 points higher than the average score of 1462 for public school students. [And] students in religious schools are safer than students in public schools, as measured by fewer instances of violent crime and bullying. A higher percentage of students in religious schools report feeling safe from attack or harm in school compared to their public school peers," the study reported citing a Supreme Court amicus brief.
The brief also noted the "positive contributions faith-based organizations to the health and welfare of hundreds of millions of Americans."
The study said that Catholic hospitals alone care for one-in-six US hospital patients, while Lutherans serve six million people or one-in-50 individuals per year.
Annual operating revenues reported by some of the largest faith-based healthcare providers with an active religious affiliation amounted to $161 billion, according to the study.
America has thousands of religious charities but the authors could not gather all their activities and revenues, so they took the largest ones and compiled a comprehensive estimate of 50 large US charities. The total revenues of these organizations totaled $45.3 billion.
Faith-based food ($14.4 billion) and media market ($0.9 billion) revenues lagged behind in their proportionate share in religious-service market.
The study found that total money spent by religious organizations on social service programs has increased considerably over the last 14 years, from $3.32 billion in 1998 to $9.24 billion in 2012.
"Do we need to know (religion's socio-economic value) in order to appreciate the value of faith? Of course not," Grim was quoted as saying by Deseret News. "But in an age where fewer people are raised in religious congregations, we need to show a more balanced perspective on faith than might come through in daily headlines."
"Religion serves the US with over 78,000 programs that help people struggling with mental illness. That is more than 3 times as many starbucks as there are in the entire world. And faith centers are found in the poorest neighborhoods, in the inner-cities, and in the most remote rural areas. Without the influence of religion, many of these programs will disappear, and the communities that thrive because of them would wither. There are 56,000 groups dedicated to improving race relations, 129,000 groups for people struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, 25,000 groups providing support for people living with HIV Aids, 120,000 groups to help the unemployed, and 25,000 groups dedicated to discussing ways to reduce pollution and improve our environment. All these social programs are solely congregation-based. 40 percent of the largest charities in America exist because of religion. They are there to help us in our darkest hours, in times of natural disasters, crisis, sickness."