Study of obits finds religious people live 4 years longer than non-religious

by WorldTribune Staff, January 18, 2019

A study of more than 1,000 obituaries from around the United States found that people with religious affiliations lived nearly four years longer than those with no religious ties.

The researchers took into account gender and marital status, two factors that have strong effects on lifespan.

The study examined 1,096 obituaries from 42 major cities in the United States that were published on newspaper websites between August 2010 and August 2011.

In the study, people whose obits mentioned a religious affiliation lived an average of 5.64 years longer than those whose obits did not, which shrunk to 3.82 years after gender and marital status were considered.

“Religious affiliation had nearly as strong an effect on longevity as gender does, which is a matter of years of life,” said Laura Wallace, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State University.

The study, published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that part of the reason for the boost in longevity came from the fact that many religiously affiliated people also volunteered and belonged to social organizations, which previous research has linked to living longer.

“The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” said Baldwin Way, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Ohio State.

In addition, “many religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation,” Way said.

Way said a potential strength of the study was that, unlike other studies, religious affiliation was not self-reported, but was reported by the obituary writer.

In a smaller study of obituaries published in a Des Moines, Iowa, newspaper, the boost was slightly larger, with people religiously affiliated living 6.48 years longer than the non-religious.

The Des Mones study involved 505 obituaries published in the Des Moines Register in January and February 2012. In addition to noting the age and any religious affiliation of those who died, the researchers also documented gender, marital status and the number of social and volunteer activities listed.

Results showed that those whose obit listed a religious affiliation lived 9.45 years longer than those who didn’t. The gap shrunk to 6.48 years after gender and marital status were taken into account.

Overall, the study provided additional support to the growing number of studies showing that religion does have a positive effect on health, Wallace said.

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