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Throw BABE Out With the Bathwater? Canadian Atheists are No Less Healthy than the Religious


The belief-as-benefit effect (BABE) is a broad term for the positive association between religion/spirituality (R/S) and health outcomes. Functionally, religious variables and religious identities predict greater wellness, which implies that atheists should report worse health relative to religious groups. Using Cycle 29 of the cross-sectional General Social Survey from Statistics Canada (N > 15,900), I explored health differences in stress, life satisfaction, subjective physical wellbeing, and subjective mental wellbeing across R/S identities (atheists, agnostics, Nones, Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Religions). Results indicated that (1). religious attendance, prayer, and religiosity were generally unrelated to all health outcomes for all R/S identities, (2). averagely religious atheists reported health parity with averagely religious members of all other R/S identities, and (3). when comparing a maximally nonreligious atheist group against several maximally religiously affiliated groups, atheists largely showed health parity. If both low R/S and high R/S are associated with comparable wellness, researchers should actively question whether R/S is genuinely salutary.

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I used the Master file for Cycle 29 of the General Social Survey, which was collected by the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division of Statistics Canada. I cannot upload this dataset because I do not own it. However, interested parties can apply to access these data through Statistics Canada. I will also provide my syntax file to interested parties for analytical transparency.


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I would like to thank Jordan MacDonald for his background research. I would also like to thank Betsy Speed for her proofreading of the manuscript.


I received funding through the University of New Brunswick’s University Research Endowment Fund. A portion of these monies was used to hire a Research Assistant to help with background research.

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Correspondence to David Speed.

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This research was supported by funds to the Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and Statistics Canada. Although the research and analysis are based on data from Statistics Canada, the opinions expressed do not represent the views of Statistics Canada. Any errors in recoding, analysis, or interpretation are the fault of the author.

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Data are owned by Statistics Canada and can be accessed following the procedures set out by that organization. However, complete syntax for analyses will be provided upon request.

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Speed, D. Throw BABE Out With the Bathwater? Canadian Atheists are No Less Healthy than the Religious. J Relig Health 61, 4608–4634 (2022).

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