Are more religious people healthier than less religious people?
A new analysis of Gallup surveys of more than 676,000 Americans suggests they may be -- and the pattern stands across religious traditions.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index telephone survey asked a random sample of Americans across the country to rate or describe how healthy they were in several categories, such as overall quality of life, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior habits, job satisfaction and access to doctors and other health resources. Responses were used to give each person well-being scores on a scale of 0 to 100. Interviewees were also asked to identify their religion (if any) and how religious they were.
When well-being scores were compared to religiosity, "very religious" Americans had modestly higher scores in most areas compared with "moderately religious" and nonreligious people. The only area where nonreligious people scored higher than religious people was in physical health.
The survey, conducted between January 2, 2010 and December 30, 2011, also broke down responses by religion, and found that Jewish interviewees scored higher in health scores compared to other religious groups when comparisons were made between people in the same categories of religiosity.
The Gallup study noted that health is affected by many factors, including age, gender, race/ethnicity, where a person lives in the country, class, marital status and child-bearing status. Those factors were controlled in the analysis in order to make a scientific comparison between data on health and religiosity.
A Gallup article notes that the reasons for the higher scores among the very religious are unclear.
Americans who are very religious have higher wellbeing than those who are less religious, a relationship that holds even after controlling for a number of related demographic and geographic variables.
This study does not allow for a precise determination of why this might be the case. It is possible that Americans who have higher wellbeing are more likely to choose to be religious than those with lower wellbeing, or that some third variable could be driving certain segments of the U.S. population to be more religious and to have higher wellbeing.
It is also possible that the relationship is straightforward, that something about religiosity, defined as a personal importance placed on religion and frequent religious service attendance, in turn leads to a higher level of personal wellbeing. Religious service attendance promotes social interaction and friendship with others, and Gallup analyses have clearly shown that time spent socially and social networks themselves are positively associated with high wellbeing. Religion generally involves more meditative states and faith in a higher power, both of which have been widely used as methods to lower stress, reduce depression, and promote happiness. Religion provides mechanisms for coping with setbacks and life's problems, which in turn may reduce stress, worry, and anger. Many religions, including Christianity, by far the dominant religion in the U.S., embody tenets of positive relationships with one's neighbors and charitable acts, which may lead to a more positive mental outlook.
The survey measured religiosity by asking about the importance of religion in people's lives and how often people attend religious services. Very religious people (41 percent) said religion was an important part of daily life and attended a service every week or almost every week. Nonreligious (30.7 percent) people said religion is not an important part of daily life and attended a service seldom or never. Moderately religious (28.3 percent) were those who did not fall into the very religious or nonreligious groups.
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