Does Religion Make You Healthier and Longer Lived? Evidence for Germany
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Researchers in the US have consistently reported substantial—not just statistically significant—links between religious belief and practice, and improved health and longevity. In this paper we report evidence for Germany, using data from the long-running, nationally representative German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP 1984). The SOEP dataset includes multiple measures of health, plus many ‘controls’ which it is appropriate to use in assessing links between religious practice, health and longevity. These controls include personality traits known to be associated with better health (notably conscientiousness), and also the age of death of parents of the survey respondents. Initial results suggested that religious practice (church attendance) may be linked only to subjective (self-rated) measures of health, not to more objective measures. It seemed possible that results in some previous research could be due to what may be termed satisfaction bias or positivity bias; the known tendency of religious people to report higher than average satisfaction with almost all aspects of life. Further investigation indicated that relationships between church attendance and subjective measures of health were weaker, when a control for satisfaction bias was in place. However, there was countervailing evidence that the subjective measures in SOEP may actually be more not less valid than the objective measures; they are better not worse predictors of mortality. It was also clear that religious belief and church attendance are associated with health-protective behaviors and attitudes, including taking more exercise, not smoking and higher life satisfaction. At the end of the paper we estimate a structural equation model which maps links between religious practice, these protective behaviors and attitudes, and improved health outcomes.
KeywordsSubjective and objective health measures Church attendance Satisfaction bias German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP)
We are grateful for comments and suggestions from Ruud Muffels of Tilburg University and Stephen Headey of Monash University.
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