Religiousness and health in Europe


Recent research suggests that epidemiological forces in religion and health can have opposed effects. Using longitudinal data of people aged 50+ included in wave 1 (2004–2005) of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), and followed up through waves 2 (2006–2007), 4 (2011) and 5 (2013), we examined two forms of religious internalization and their association with health. Multivariate logistic regressions were used to examine all associations. Taking part in a religious organization was associated with lower odds of GALI (global activity limitation index) (OR = 0.86, 95% CI 0.75, 0.98) and depressive symptoms 0.80 (95% CI 0.69, 0.93), whereas being religiously educated lowered odds of poor self-rated health (SRH) 0.81 (95% CI 0.70, 0.93) and long-term health problems 0.84 (95% CI 0.74, 0.95). The more religious had lower odds of limitations with activities of daily living 0.76 (95% CI 0.58, 0.99) and depressive symptoms 0.77 (95% CI 0.64, 0.92) than other respondents, and compared to people who only prayed and did not have organizational involvement, they had lower odds of poor SRH 0.71 (95% CI 0.52, 0.97) and depressive symptoms 0.66 (95% CI 0.50, 0.87). Conversely, people who only prayed had higher odds of depressive symptoms than non-religious people 1.46 (95% CI 1.15, 1.86). Our findings suggest two types of religiousness: 1. Restful religiousness (praying, taking part in a religious organization and being religiously educated), which is associated with good health, and 2. Crisis religiousness (praying without other religious activities), which is associated with poor health.

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This article uses data from SHARE waves 1 (2004–2005), 2 (2006–2007), 4 (2011) and 5 (2013). The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the 5th framework programme (project QLK6-CT-2001-00360). Additional funding came from the US National Institute on Ageing (U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, Y1-AG-4553-01 and OGHA 04-064). Further support from the European Commission through the 6th framework programme (projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT-2006-062193, and COMPARE, CIT5-CT-2005-028857) is gratefully acknowledged. For methodological details, see Börsch-Supan et al. (2013).

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Ahrenfeldt, L.J., Möller, S., Andersen-Ranberg, K. et al. Religiousness and health in Europe. Eur J Epidemiol 32, 921–929 (2017).

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  • Religiousness
  • Activity limitations
  • Self-rated health
  • Depression
  • Europe