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Monday, September 26, 2011

Who Would Have Thought? Atheists and Agnostics Live Shorter and Unhappier Lives

It turns out, being a so-called free thinker isn't necessarily good for your health, at least if by "free thinker" you mean someone who is an agnostic or atheist. This isn't actually new news. Social scientists who study religion have known about it for awhile, but in a recent article in the Daily Caller ("What Better Health? Go to Church"), Patrick Chisholm highlights the findings of a lot of these studies. He notes:
"This isn't about what happens to you in the hereafter. It’s about what happens to you in the here and now. Atheists and agnostics suffer, on average, higher rates of physical ailments, depression, suicide, alcohol use and drug addiction. They have greater marital instability, weaker parent-child relationships, lower lifetime earnings, lower educational attainment and higher rates of criminal activity.” 
"These aren’t some trumped-up claims made by people with a religious ax to grind. These are the conclusions of many scholars in the sciences and social sciences whose work appears in numerous non-religious scholarly journals including Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Personality and Clinical Studies, Social Science Research, Preventive Medicine, Demography and many more.”
I would add that several articles on the topic (many authored by Chris Ellison from UT Austin) have appeared in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, and the Sociology of Religion. Why are the faithful healthier?
“On the physical side, religious belief often prompts one to view one’s body as sacred and a gift from God, which reduces the likelihood of such factors as smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, unsafe driving, physical inactivity and substance abuse. Religious persons also tend to have a greater support network of family and friends, which encourages healthier lifestyles.”
Of course, you could argue that there is a bit of self-selection going on here. People living more conventional and healthier lifestyles are more likely to attend or join a faith community. There is undoubtedly some of that going on, but researchers have been able to disentangle self-selection effects from religious ones and have found that religious beliefs and practices increase the probability that you will enjoy a longer and happier life.

So there you have it. Want better health? Regularly attend church (or synagogue, mosque, temple, etc.), make lots of friends, invest time in those relationships, and follow their lead on how to live your life.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, well, the literature on "whistle blowers" makes it pretty clear that they often find themselves singled out for abuse. But Leon Festinger and others make a strong case for not making belief-discrepant claims, so I wonder.

    The suggestion that agnostics are usually undereducated sounds strange to me. It seemed to me that when I was still working most of my colleagues at the university were agnostic, and i don't consider them undereducated.