A new Pew Research survey conducted in 26 countries, including the United States, found regular participation in a religious community “clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement.”
Civic engagement means “voting in elections and joining community groups or other voluntary organizations.”
“This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being,” Pew said.
“Religiously active people also tend to smoke and drink less, but they are not healthier in terms of exercise frequency and rates of obesity. Nor, in most countries, are highly religious people more likely to rate themselves as being in very good overall health – though the U.S. is among the possible exceptions,” the report said.
“Many previous studies have found positive associations between religion and health in the United States. Researchers have shown, for example, that Americans who regularly attend religious services tend to live longer. Other studies have focused on narrower health benefits, such as how religion may help breast cancer patients cope with stress.”
The new survey took a broad approach to the topic, looking at eight indicators of individual and societal well-being. One concerned happiness, two civic participation and five individual health.
“The data presented in this report indicate that there are links between religious activity and certain measures of well-being in many countries, [but] the numbers do not prove that going to religious services is directly responsible for improving people’s lives. Rather, it could be that certain kinds of people tend to be active in multiple types of activities (secular as well as religious), many of which may provide physical or psychological benefits. Moreover, such people may be more active partly because they are happier and healthier, rather than the other way around,” Pew said.
“Whatever the explanation may be, more than one-third of actively religious U.S. adults (36 percent) describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans. Across 25 other countries for which data are available, actives report being happier than the unaffiliated by a statistically significant margin in almost half (12 countries), and happier than inactively religious adults in roughly one-third (nine) of the countries.
“When it comes to measuring civic participation, the results again follow a pattern: On balance, people who are actively religious are also more likely to be active in voluntary and community groups,” Pew said. “In the U.S., 58 percent of actively religious adults say they are also active in at least one other (nonreligious) kind of voluntary organization, including charity groups, sports clubs or labor unions. Only about half of all inactively religious adults (51 percent) and fewer than half of the unaffiliated (39 percent) say the same.”
Responses from 26 countries were included in the study.
Pew said it appeared that religious affiliation – without participation – had little impact.
Religious Americans are more likely to vote, Pew said, with 69 percent of those who are actively religious voting in all national elections. Only 48 percent of unaffiliated people voted.