Is Charlotte Really all that Weird? A Look at Religious Demographics

This is Part 3 of our continuing series fact-checking the Huffington Post article titled, “15 Reasons Why Charlotte is the Weirdest.” If you missed our first two posts, you can read Part 1 by clicking here and Part two by clicking here.

As in our earlier posts, we’ll be taking a look at how Charlotte compares to the other U.S. cities that rank among the top 25 according to population (Charlotte is currently ranked # 17).

In this post, we’ll specifically take a look at data on the religious demographics of our city in order to address the following claim about Charlotte:

Huffington Post Claim: “Everything Is Oddly Evangelical”

For the sake of being thorough, I decided to investigate this claim a couple of different ways.

First to get a sense of the general “religiosity” of each of the top 25 most populated cities in the U.S., I conducted a simple search on yellowpages.com for the phrase “churches places of worship” (crude I know). This gave me an estimate of the total number of places of worship in each city, which I then used to calculate the number of places of worship per 100,000 people in each city. The results are presented below:

 

places of worship per 100000

Number of places of worship per 100,000 people in each of the top 25 most populated cities in the U.S. | Source: yellowpages.com

As you can see, Charlotte does not stand out from the rest of the group when it comes to number of places of worship. In fact, given that the average number of places of worship per 100,000 people across these 25 cities is 134.48, Charlotte is essentially right in the middle of the pack (z score = 0.19).

calvary church clt

Calvary Church sits on a 100 acre plot of land in south Charlotte and boasts 310,000 square feet of space.

Okay, so the number of places of worship throughout Charlotte doesn’t seem to be that much higher than what you see in other major cities. However, one might rightly point out that Charlotte is home to several mega-churches, such as the Calvary Church in south Charlotte (pictured on the right). And given that each mega-church is capable of serving an extremely large number of people (according to Calvary Church’s website, the church sanctuary can seat 5,106 people), there may simply not be a need for many churches throughout the area.

Given this possibility, we need to consider the religious demographics of Charlotte’s population.

The figure below shows the breakdown of Charlotte’s population by religion, according to research by Sperling’s Best Places.

CLT relgious demographics

Religious demographics in Charlotte, NC | Source: Sperling’s Best Places to Live

I decided to look at this data in several different ways.

First, I gathered the same information as shown in the table above for each of the 25 most populated cities in the U.S. and rank ordered them according to the percentage of the population in each city that identifies with any major religion (this is the row labelled “Percent Religious” in the table above). The results are displayed in the figure below.

rank according to percent religious

The top 25 most populated cities in the U.S. rank ordered according to percent of the population that identifies with a major religion. | Source: Sperling’s Best Places to Live

You can see that here, too, there is nothing “weird” about where Charlotte stands in terms of the percentage of its population that identifies with a major religion. Coming in at #13 on the rank-ordered list above (and with a z score of only 0.15), Charlotte is essentially smack dab in the middle of the pack, just slightly higher than the group average of 50.69%.

Next, I looked at the degree of religious diversity in each major U.S. city. If it is true that everything in Charlotte is oddly Evangelical, then one would expect to see much less religious diversity in Charlotte compared to other major cities.

However, this is not at all supported by the data. And what’s more, the opposite seems to be true. Among the top 25 most populated cities in the U.S., Charlotte actually seems to be one of the most religiously diverse!

First consider the figure below, which shows the religious demographics for three cities – Columbus, OH, Charlotte, NC, and New York, NY:

religious diversity across 3 cities

Population distribution across major religions for Columbus, OH, Charlotte, NC, and New York, NY | Source: Sperling’s Best Places to Live

Cities with high religious diversity should show a distribution that is relatively uniform, flat, and rectangular-shaped with few sharp peaks. Columbus and Charlotte come closer to fitting this description than New York for example, which has a disproportionate number of Catholic and Jewish residents.

Furthermore, if we define religious diversity as the extent to which all major religions are roughly equally represented in a city’s population, then we can measure religious diversity in each city by calculating the standard deviation of the percentage of people that belong to each religion. Because the standard deviation provides a measure of how much, on average, scores in a set deviate from their respective mean, cities with high religious diversity will be associated with smaller standard deviations (because there will be little variability between the percentage of people who belong to each religion).

Below is a list of the 25 most populated cities in the U.S. rank ordered according to our measure of religious diversity, from most religiously diverse (Columbus, OH) to least religiously diverse (Boston, MA):

  1. Columbus, OH  (s = 0.0380)
  2. Phoenix, AZ (s = 0.0406)
  3. Seattle, WA (s = 0.0409)
  4. Indianapolis, IN (s = 0.0418)
  5. Baltimore, MD (s = 0.0427)
  6. Charlotte, NC (s = 0.0449)
  7. San Francisco, CA (s =0.0450)
  8. Detroit, MI (s = 0.0494)
  9. Austin, TX (s = 0.0514)
  10. Washington, DC (s = 0.0576)
  11. Jacksonville, FL (s = 0.0623)
  12. Dallas, TX (s = 0.0632)
  13. Houston, TX (s = 0.0636)
  14. Fort Worth, TX (s = 0.0644)
  15. San Jose, CA (s = 0.0707)
  16. Philadelphia, PA (s = 0.0715)
  17. San Diego, CA (s = 0.0726)
  18. Nashville, TN (s = 0.0736)
  19. New York, NY (s = 0.0742)
  20. Memphis, TN (s = 0.0854)
  21. San Antonio, TX (s = 0.0864)
  22. Los Angeles, CA (s = 0.1024)
  23. Chicago, IL (s = 0.1067)
  24. El Paso, TX (s = 0.1224)
  25. Boston, MA (s = 0.1328)

*s = standard deviation

As you can see, Charlotte ranks fairly high on the list of cities that are religiously diverse – not in the top 3, but certainly higher than what someone unfamiliar with the city might expect after reading that Huffington Post article. Furthermore, Charlotte is nearly one whole standard deviation above the mean for these 25 cities (z score = 0.90).

So, is Charlotte “weird” because “everything is oddly Evangelical?” It doesn’t appear so.

Sure, a larger percentage of Charlotte’s population is Baptist compared to some other major cities (e.g., 13.26% in Charlotte vs. only 3.19% in New York City), but this doesn’t contribute to a lack of religious diversity throughout the city. Rather, this adds to the religious diversity of Charlotte. As the data we’ve presented here suggest, Charlotte stands out from among some of the other major U.S. cities by being particularly religiously diverse.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to see how Charlotte might appear oddly evangelical to those visiting from cities weirdly lacking in religious diversity (looking at you New York and Boston).

Conclusion Regarding Huffington Post Claim: FALSE

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