It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In anearlier study of 137 countries, I found that belief in God was higher in countries with a heavy load of infectious diseases, making life difficult and uncertain. Moreover, fewer people believed in God in wealthy and well-educated countries where life is easier. Countries with a more equal distribution of income - and hence less social problems - had more atheists. Atheism was higher for countries with a well-developed welfare state (as indexed by high taxation rates).

Yet, the 2011 study had a weakness. The data were not collected in the same way in different countries and were not strictly comparable. In a study published in the February issue of Cross-Cultural Research, I analyzed Gallup data on the importance of religion in people's daily lives. The key advantage of the Gallup data is that the same polling methodology was used in each of the 114 countries for which they collected data in 2009.

My results in the new study mirrored those of the earlier one on belief in God. I found that more people reported that religion was important in their daily lives in countries with difficult living conditions. Moreover, as the size of government increased (as assessed by personal taxation rates) the importance of religion declined.

This was not because the government was suppressing religion as happened in Communist countries. I controlled for countries having a Communist past. My study also controlled for whether a country was mostly Muslim (where atheism may be criminalized).