New research suggests that there is a surprising correlation between one’s life expectancy and religious affiliation — or lack thereof.
According to a study put out by researchers at Ohio State University, atheists’ lack of belief in the afterlife could be cutting their mortal lives short as well. The Ohio State research team found that those that have religious beliefs, on average, outlive those without religious beliefs by four years.
The study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science was based on the obituaries of more than 1,000 people across the country.
Laura Wallace, the lead author of the study and a doctoral psychology student at Ohio State, pointed out that the effect that religion has on one’s lifespan is similar to the effect one’s gender has.
“Religious affiliation had nearly as strong an effect on longevity as gender does, which is a matter of years of life,” Ms. Wallace stated, as reported by The Washington Times.
The study ran through 1,600 obituaries from 2010 to 2012, in which the researchers observed the deceased’s marital status, religion and any social activities mentioned.
The study used a few different samples; the first came from 505 obituaries that were published in the Des Moines Register from January and February 2012. This sample found that those with a religious affiliation lived 9.45 years longer than atheists, or those without a belief in God. The researches then sorted through the data further, accounting for gender and marital status, concluding that people of faith lived 6.48 years longer than those without.
One thing that the Ohio State psychology researches attribute to religious people living longer is that those with religious affiliation tend to volunteer and participate in social activities more than those without, which is an attribute that is tied to a longer lifespan.
Although things like volunteer work and social activities add longevity to a person’s life, the study notes that these only add around a year at most. The researchers also suggest that other attributes of living a “religious” life, such as low alcohol intake, could add to longevity as well.
“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,” she added.
Dr. Baldwin Way, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State and co-author of the study, agreed with Wallace’s takeaway. He noted that even though the finding might sound random to atheists, there is a correlation highlighted in the study that can’t be ignored.
“The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” he stated.
The second sample the researchers used included 1,096 obituaries from 42 major cities in the U.S. that were on different newspapers’ websites between the months of August 2010 and August 2011. Though these results were a little bit different than the results from the first study, with less dramatic findings, the correlation was still present.
This sample found that those with religious affiliation lived 5.64 years longer than atheists, or those without a belief in God. The researches then sorted through the data further, accounting for gender and marital status, finding that people of faith lived 3.82 years longer than atheists.
The research team was adamant that even given the differences between the two samples, the correlation was significant.
The team also found that religious people could positively affect the longevity of others. They noted that there were some cities that were affected by what the researchers call a “spillover effect.”
“The positive health effects of religion spill over to the non-religious in some specific situations,” Wallace said. “The spillover effect only occurs in highly religious cities that aren’t too concerned about everyone conforming to the same norms. In those areas, non-religious people tend to live as long as do religious people.”
Although the results all pointed towards religion having a large impact on one’s life, Dr. Way was careful to add that there were some facets to the study that could not be controlled, like longevity dependent on one’s race or lifestyle. But a possible strength of the study, he noted, is the fact that one’s religious affiliation was reported by the obituary writer, not from the deceased.
Wallace concluded that the findings of the study simply bolster the already prolific body of evidence that shows the positive effect religion has on the quality and length of one’s life.
(H/T: The Washington Times)