A nationwide study of obituaries found that Americans with religious affiliations lived nearly four years longer than those with no ties to religion. That four-year boost — found in an analysis of more than 1,000 obituaries from around the country — was calculated after taking into account the sex and marital status of those who died, two factors that have strong effects on lifespan.
Results showed that those whose obituaries listed a religious affiliation lived 9.45 years longer than those who didn’t. The gap shrunk to 6.48 years after gender and marital status were taken into account.
“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. The study was published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The researchers found that part of the reason for the boost in longevity came from the fact that many religiously affiliated people also volunteered and belonged to social organizations, which previous research has linked to living longer. “
Another study with double the numbers (1,096 obituaries from 42 major cities in the United States published on newspaper websites between August 2010 and August 2011) found that people whose obits mentioned a religious affiliation lived an average of 5.64 years longer than those whose obits did not, which shrunk to 3.82 years after gender and marital status were considered.
Many studies have shown that people who volunteer and participate in social groups tend to live longer than others. So the researchers combined data from both studies to see if the volunteer and social opportunities that religious groups offer might explain the longevity boost.
Results showed that this was only part of the reason why religious people lived longer. ”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 else explains how religion helps people live longer? It may be related to the rules and norms of many religions that restrict unhealthy practices such as alcohol and drug use and having sex with many partners, Way said. In addition, many religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or shabbat rest.
Overall, the study provided additional support to the growing number of studies showing that religion does have a positive effect on health, Wallace said.
The halt in increasing life expectance in GB this year; and the slight decline in life expectance in the US in the last two years; may be the partly the result of the recent steady increase in the percentage of people who are not members of an organized religion in the US and GB.
For more information about the positive influence of religion on health see my just published book: Which religion Is Right For You?: A 21st century Kuzari pages 2-4 (Hadassa Word Press ISBN 978-620-2-45517-6)