Religious people may live on average four years longer compared to their atheist peers, a study of obituaries in the US has found. The four-year boost — found in an analysis of over 1,000 obits from around the US — was calculated after taking into account the sex and marital status of those who died, two factors that have strong effects on lifespan
“Religious affiliation had nearly as strong an effect on longevity as gender does, which is a matter of years of life,” said Laura Wallace, a doctoral student at The Ohio State University. The study, published in ‘Social Psychological and Personality Science’, found that part of the reason for the boost in longevity came from the fact that religiously affiliated people also volunteered and belonged to social organisations, which previous research has linked to living longer.
“The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” said Baldwin Way, an associate professor at Ohio State.
The first study involved 505 obituaries published in the ‘Des Moines Register’ in January and February 2012. In addition to noting the age and any religious affiliation of those who died, the researchers also documented sex, marital status and the number of social and volunteer activities listed. The results showed that those whose obit listed a religious affiliation lived 9.45 years longer than those who did not. The gap shrunk to 6.48 years after gender and marital status were taken into account.
The second study included 1,096 obituaries from 42 major cities in the US published on newspaper websites between August 2010 and August 2011. In this study, 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.
However, while volunteering and social events can extend lifespan, the researchers believe they aren’t the only factors. Lifestyle guidelines, such as abstaining from drinking alcohol or taking drugs, could explain the boost, as well as practices which ease stress, such as praying or meditating.
This is the latest research to point to religion having life-boosting effects. In 2016, a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that regularly attending religious services can increase lifespan. AGENCIES