Religious people have longer lifespans than atheists: Study

June 14, 2018 GMT

The afterlife isn’t the only thing atheists are missing out on by not believing in God.

A just-released study found that religious people live an average of four years longer than atheists. Researchers at Ohio State University analyzed 1,000 obituaries published across the United States since 2011 and found a correlation between faith and longevity.

Baldwin Way, associate professor of psychology at Ohio State and co-author of the study, said religious strictures on unhealthy practices such as alcohol consumption, drug use and sex with multiple partners, may explain the findings in part.

Many religions also “promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation,” Mr. Way told the Daily Mail.

The study also examined how much of an effect social engagement has on longevity. Other studies have shown that sociability contributes to a longer life, but researchers said it could only partly explain why religious people live longer than atheists.

“We found that volunteerism and involvement in social organizations only accounted for a little less than one year of the longevity boost that religious affiliation provided,” said Laura Wallace, a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State and lead author of the study.

The effect may be especially pronounced in religiously cohesive communities.

When researchers looked at 505 obituaries published in the Des Moines Register between January and February 2012, the lifespan gap between religious people and atheists increased to 9.45 years. After accounting for gender and marital status, religious people still lived an average of 6.48 years longer than their nonreligious counterparts.

A broader sample of 1,096 obituaries from 42 major U.S. cities found religious people lived an average of 5.64 years longer than atheists, which shrunk to 3.82 years when controlled for gender and marital status.

Researchers also said there is a “spillover effect” where nonbelievers in highly religious cities receive some of the health benefits of faith.

“The spillover effect only occurs in highly religious cities that aren’t too concerned about everyone conforming to the same norms,” Ms. Wallace said. “In those areas, non-religious people tend to live as long as do religious people.”

She said the study, published Wednesday in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, builds on others that show religion has a positive effect on health.

But there’s still a lot that scientists don’t know about the relationship between faith and long life.

“There’s still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can’t explain,” Ms. Wallace said.