Saturday 19 January 2019

Who lives longer, religious people or atheists? Scientists think they may have the answer

  • Scientists analysed more than 1,500 obituaries to reach their conclusion 
  • Records include religious affiliations and marriage details as well as information on activities, hobbies and habits 
File photo: A woman practicing meditation
File photo: A woman practicing meditation

Alex Matthews-King

Religious people live on average four years longer than their agnostic and atheist peers, new research has found.

The difference between practising worshippers and those who were not part of a religious group could be down to a mix of social support, stress-relieving practices and abstaining from unhealthy habits, the authors suggest.

For the study, a team of Ohio University academics analysed more than 1,500 obituaries from across the US to piece together how the defining features of our lives affect our longevity.

These records include religious affiliations and marriage details as well as information on activities, hobbies and habits, which can help or hinder our health, not otherwise captured in census data.

The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science yesterday, found that on average people whose obituary mentioned they were religious lived an extra 5.64 years.

Life expectancy was still 3.82 years longer in religious people when they statistically controlled for marriage rates, a factor which has been shown to increase life expectancy and help stave off disease.

“The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” said Baldwin Way, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

The major part of the study used more than 1,000 obituaries from newspapers in 42 states. But a further analysis of 500 obituaries from the Des Moines Register, a paper in Iowa, found the effect was more pronounced and religion was associated with an extra 6.48 years of life, suggesting living in a more religious area might have an extra effect.

Religious participation often goes hand-in-hand with increased participation in activities and social groups, which might help tackle loneliness and sedentary lifestyles that could also shorten life expectancy.

But analysis of activities mentioned in the report found this accounted for a fraction of the effect.

Independent News Service

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