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Religion and Happiness Among Israeli Jews: Findings from the ISSP Religion III Survey

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Abstract

This study investigates religious predictors of happiness in a population-based sample of Israeli Jewish adults (N = 991). Using data collected in 2009–2010 as a part of the International Social Survey Programme’s Religion III Survey, analyses were conducted on a fully recursive structural model of the effects of synagogue attendance and several religious mediators on a single-item measure of happiness. Bivariately, every religious measure (synagogue attendance, prayer frequency, certainty of God beliefs, a four-item Supernatural Beliefs Scale, and subjective religiosity) is positively and significantly associated with happiness. In the structural model, 11 of 15 hypothesized paths are significant. Of these, only subjective religiosity exhibits a significant direct effect on happiness (β = 0.15, p < .01). The other four religious indicators, however, all exert indirect effects on happiness through subjective religiosity and combinations of each other. Total effects on happiness of both synagogue attendance (β = 0.10, p < .01) and the Supernatural Beliefs Scale (β = 0.12, p < .05) are statistically significant. Analyses adjust for effects of age and other sociodemographic covariates. Results build on a growing body of population-based findings supporting a salutary impact of Jewish religious observance on subjective well-being in Israel and the diaspora.

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Notes

  1. No English translation for this item was included in the ISSP Israeli codebook. The translation given here of the text of the Hebrew question is original, courtesy of Rabbi Gordon Fuller.

  2. Typically, path analyses of structural-equation models are conducted using covariance-structure-modeling (CSM) methods, such as LISREL. In the present study, OLS regression was used for mostly pragmatic reasons. The dependent construct (happiness), the independent construct (synagogue attendance), all but one of the religious mediators, and all of the covariates were single-item variables. An advantage of CSM is to be able to build in measurement-error variance. In this study, that would not have been possible. To conduct these analyses in CSM fashion would thus be unlikely to have altered the findings much, and would have served mainly to complicate the decomposition-of-effects piece of the analysis. It also would have complicated the presentation of results and may have rendered the paper highly inaccessible to much of this journal’s audience (e.g., academic psychologists and clinicians). Therefore, the more old-school OLS method was used.

  3. Several additional religious indicators present in the ISSP data were also examined here (not reported in Table 1). Happiness correlates strongly and significantly with frequency of synagogue activities besides services (r = 0.11, p < .001), frequency of visits to holy places (r = 0.16, p < .001), religious objects in the home (r = 0.11, p < .001), and self-describing as religious rather than spiritual (r = 0.14, p < .001). These measures were excluded from the path analysis, however, for two reasons: (1) to avoid cluttering the model with too many religious constructs, and (2) very high levels of multicollinearity with conceptually similar variables already in the model (all four additional variables correlate very highly with the five religious measures in the model). These additional religious variables would thus not have added much to the analysis or to the overall understanding of this paper’s substantive topic.

  4. Calculation of indirect effects is actually more complicated than in this description. Where a given pathway involves multiple mediating variables, the calculation of a respective indirect effect through these mediators can get unwieldy in a hurry and exceedingly difficult to calculate by hand. As an alternative, Alwin and Hauser (1975) recommend use of what they term “reduced-form equations” which enable hand-calculation of indirect effects through simple arithmetic using results taken from regression analysis printout. This is much too technical to convey even in a footnote; the interested reader is referred to Alwin and Hauser (1975).

  5. Significance tests for the indirect effects were produced through use of the Sobel test for mediation effects via a very useful online interactive calculation tool (Preacher and Leonardelli 2012). Identical results were obtained, from the same tool, using the Aroian and Goodman versions of the Sobel test.

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Rabbi Gordon Fuller for his assistance in translating some Hebrew-only material from the ISSP’s Israeli codebook; Dr. Neal Krause for his guidance regarding aspects of the decomposition of path effects; and Josh Jang for his help with graphics software.

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Levin, J. Religion and Happiness Among Israeli Jews: Findings from the ISSP Religion III Survey. J Happiness Stud 15, 593–611 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9437-8

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