Why Do Religious People Live Longer than Atheists?

A new study has found that people who have religious affiliations tend to live an average of four years longer than those who are not religious – but what exactly is boosting their longevity?

Ohio State University is reporting on the study conducted by its researchers in which more than 1,000 obituaries from around the country were analyzed. After taking into account the sex and marital status of the deceased, researchers found that people with ties to religion lived an average of four years longer than those who were not religiously affiliated.

“Religious affiliation had nearly as strong an effect on longevity as gender does, which is a matter of years of life,” said Laura Wallace, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at The Ohio State University.

Part of the reason for the boost in longevity comes from the fact that many religiously affiliated people also volunteer and belong to social organizations, activities which previous research has linked to living longer.

However, this only accounted for an average of one additional year of longevity for religiously affiliated people.

Further study revealed that the effects of religion on longevity may also depend on the “personality” and religiosity of the cities where people live.

For example, the authors studied 505 obituaries published in the Des Moines Register in January and February of 2012. After accounting for sex, marital status, and the number of social and volunteer activities listed, religiously affiliated people lived 9.45 years longer than those who weren’t religious. Marital status and gender reduced this finding to 6.48 years.

When studying 1,096 obituaries from 42 major cities in the U.S., the religiously affiliated lived an average of 5.64 years longer than those whose obituaries did not list a religion. After accounting for sex and marital status, the statistic shrunk to 3.82 years.

Researchers then combined the two studies to see if volunteer and social opportunities that religious groups offer might account for the longevity boost.

It did, but only for a portion of it.

“We found that volunteerism and involvement in social organizations only accounted for a little less than one year of the longevity boost that religious affiliation provided,” Wallace said. “There’s still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can’t explain.”

So what other factors could be contributing to this longevity?

Baldwin Rey, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Ohio State, said it could be related to the rules and norms of many religions that restrict unhealthy behaviors such as drinking, drug use, and having sex with multiple partners.

It may also be because “many religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation,” Way said.

The importance that some communities place on values and norms could also impact longevity for the religiously affiliated, such as those who live in areas where conformity to those norms is important.


The bottom line is that “the study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” Way said.

The study was published online last week in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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