Lisa Keister was born poor. “I cleaned houses when I was 10 years old,” she says. Now a professor of sociology at Duke University, she’s trying to understand what leads people not to build wealth. Her answer? Their religious beliefs—at least in part. In a recent study, she finds that both black and white conservative Protestants are among the poorest Americans because they believe that their money belongs to God. As a result, “they tend to seek divine guidance in making important decisions,...

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