Want to live a longer life? Try church.
A new study found that religious people live an average of four years longer than atheists, with religious affiliation having as strong an effect as gender on life expectancy. The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, studied more than 1,000 obituaries from across the United States and found that when the sex and marital status of the deceased were studied, the religious consistently lived longer than their atheist peers.
As the Times of India noted, an initial study looked at obituaries published in the Des Moines Register, with researchers looking at a range of factors including sex, marital status, social affiliations, and volunteer activities. It found that people who listed a religious affiliation lived nearly a decade longer than those who listed no religion. A second study expanded the pool, looking at more than 1,000 obituaries from 42 major U.S. cities, finding that those with religious affiliation lived an average of 5.64 years longer. When factors like gender and marital status were taken into account, it amounted to just under four years.
While there is no apparent medical reason for the longer life expectancy, the study suggested that religious people have stronger social networks through their place of worship, and social organizations have a correlation with longer living.
"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, the study's principal researcher.
"There's still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can't explain," she added.
As the Evening Standard noted, researchers believe there could be other factors at play, including a greater tendency among the religious to abstain from vices like drugs or alcohol. They also suggested that prayer, like meditation, can bring greater relaxation and reduce stress.The study was met with some controversy, as some readers noted that countries with the highest standards of living -- especially northern European nations -- have a greater number of atheists and lesser tendency of the general population to be religious. Others noted that the method of research, relying on obituaries, is not sufficient to show how truly religious a person might be.
But other studies have come to the same conclusion, the Times of India noted, including one in 2016 that found people who regularly attend religious services have a longer lifespan than those who do not.