The Benefits of Religion

A new study by Angus Deaton uses an expansive dataset to analyze the determinants and benefits of religiosity around the world. Deaton confirms that women and the elderly are almost universally more religious. He also finds evidence that higher religiosity among the elderly may be due to aging effects as opposed to simply secularization of younger generations. Religious people view themselves as more fit, reporting better health, more energy, and less pain. (Perhaps prayer is a substitute for complaining?) They’re also less likely to smoke and more likely to be married, have supportive friends, and be treated with respect. Other economists have linked religiosity with voting and counteracting the effects of childhood poverty. [%comments]


Well, if I were getting near to a certain death, Id be looking for answers just about everywhere also. I wonder if you can compare religiosity to placebo. Would there be a difference?


Interesting topic. Personally, I am not religous. My parents both went experienced Irish Catholic childhoods, and didn't want to put their kids through that. I was baptized, but that was as far as my religous experience went.
My gf's family is somewhat religous (Lutheran), especially her mom. My gf believes in the big picture, but is skeptical about much of it, and doesn't attend church regularly. When she does, it is more to appease her mom than for herself.
Her mom recently said how I should take communion. I didn't know how to respond, but my gf told her how I don't believe in that stuff. Her mom said that "it would be good for him", but was unable to explain how. I don't see how either.


I wonder how these "more religious" people were defined. If the definition included going to church, then healthier people would be favored in the selection. If you're very sick, you're unlikely to get the chance (or have the energy/consciousness) to visit your local church.

Eric M. Jones

It is not a mystery worthy of study why women are more inclined to attend church (women are more social), nor why older people drift towards religion (their family members move away and have their own families), nor why they receive other benefits..

Angus Deaton is not wrong, he is just unable to compare a socially-oriented polite dress-up gathering that fosters community and connections---and is called religious, with the identical social construct that is not religious. (Because there is not one, or at least not a common one).

Rev. Eric M. Jones, Doctor of Divinity, Universal Life Church
(Great tax dodge and for fifty bucks you can be Pope!)


This just in: Ignorance really is bliss.


People here cannot seems to separate the two arguments of whether or not religion is good for society and whether or not God exists.

This study does not talk about whether or not God existing.

All it says is that religion helps people lead healthier and more fulfilling lives. Or it says that healthier and more fulfilled people chose religion.

Too many snarky comments and comments purporting to shed doubt on the study.

I do not really know who agnus deaton is though, he/she could be biased.

Science Minded

Dear Jones:

The real question cannot be of why women are more inclined: but of why women generally are more inclined.... and not in the specific motivational sense but in the statistical sense of the correlation between religiosity and gender. My preference is for asking the question of why religion and science can be traced back to a woman in the specific motivational sense. And that mystery has been somewhat resolved. I say somewhat, because I can see the possibility of scientists demonstrating how women's brains and men's brains operate somewhat differently consistent with our natural differences and capabilities.

See Robyn A. Goldstein, 2010.

ps. Thanks for letting me know who you are.


Perhaps religious people receive more respect because religion teaches its adherents to disrespect those who don't believe its tenets. Atheists are, in the US at least, the most-despised minority. Thus, religion creates its own respect by excluding those who don't agree with it.


I couldn't help but recall one of my favourite quotes when reading this:

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one."
George Bernard Shaw


I once considered how I would live my life if I ever became an atheist. I was shocked to find that I would still largely live my life as sincere Christian! Why? Because even if one sets aside all the notions of ultimate questions, heaven, hell, etc., the practical truth is that being a decent, honest, kind, faithful, and so forth are very beneficial to one's standing in the community, one's relationships, one's progress in the world, and so forth.

Now, this simply demonstrates that, depending on how you look at, religion is either just a set of mutually-beneficial rules dressed up in ritual and cermony...or that God knew the behaviors that would help ensure the long-term survival of mankind--and mandated them via religion.

Who wants an unfaithful spouse? Or who wants to do business or work with a cheater, liar, thief? EXACTLY!

Emil/#9 quoted George Bernard Shaw: “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

Ah, but this is mistaken. A skeptic, believing there to be nothing beyond this realm, would be foolish to not seek to be as happy as possible. And if he finds out at the end that, indeed, there is nothing else, well, at least he was happy. And if he finds out he was wrong, and there is a God, well, he statys happy!

And the believer who is happy now is in the fortunate circumstance of taking advantage of the only time he KNOWS he has. And if it all proves out at the end, then he is doubly rewarded--a happy life AND a happy afterlife.

Yes, I sometimes wish that my beliefs allowed me certain liberties in this world. But as soon as I get my head back on straight, I realize just how damaging it would be to live opposite of how I am now living. It would truly be "the pleasures of sin...for a season." And then I'd either pay the piper in this world...or, if I'm right, in the next.

If atheism makes you happy, be happy...after all, if you're wrong, this is the only chance you get--ha!



Actually, it is to the point, particularly if one is atheist. There are few valuations that could objectively measure knowing "the truth" as superior/more valuable to physical well-being, subjective happiness, lack of criminal involvement, etc. Ignorance may indeed be bliss, but it also makes for a more humanistic society, ironically enough.


@ Grant - "Perhaps religious people receive more respect because religion teaches its adherents to disrespect those who don't believe its tenets. Atheists are, in the US at least, the most-despised minority. Thus, religion creates its own respect by excluding those who don't agree with it."

"Atheists...are the most-despised minority" in the US? What a load of bunk. In academia, the media, Hollywood, TV, Christians are the single most ridiculed group out there. And I don't know what you've been taught about Christianity, but it hardly teaches its adherents to "disrespect those who don't believe its tenets." That's one of the most ignorant things I've ever seen with regards to religion. Haven't you ever heard "turn the other cheek?" If you're going to come on here and insult the majority of people in the world, please at least try to make any sort of sense.

Stacey Ross

Did Jake just say that Christians are the global majority?


More women than men are religious and attend worship services (especially Christian and Jewish) because of the affirmation they receive in that environment. True religion affords women a dignity and respect they often are denied by society at large. The elderly are more religious because they were not censored at virtually every turn of their lives by 'political correctness'. They were never exposed to the myth of the so-called 'Separation of Church and State'. They know that there is not a single OFFICIAL government-adopted document that even so-much as mentions the 'Separation of Church and State'. The younger generation doesn't realize this truth as yet. Duh!


@ #13 Stacey Ross - no, I said non-atheists are a global majority - the group that Grant was insulting.


One problem with mining large data sets is that it is easy to lapse into anomaly hunting: given enough data, you can always find any number of correlations that are statistically significant, but are not causally correlated: the correlation is due to chance, or due to some common causal factor. Alternatively, the causality could be the other way around: perhaps being healthy predisposes people to be religious, and not the other way around.

Using anomaly hunting, you can "prove" anything by just looking around until you find some correlation that seems to support your hypothesis. Does religion make people healther? Let's see... is there a negative correlation between religiosity and alcoholism? No? Well, how about smoking then? Of course, you could just as easily reverse the hypothesis (religiosity makes people sicker) and look for correlations that seem to support that view too.

Having barely skimmed this study, I won't claim that's what it is doing, but this kind of sloppy anomaly hunting does appear to be pretty common, and any time anyone does any data mining from large sets looking for correlations, you need to pay close attention to how the study was done, and especially whether or not the researcher decided ahead of time what factors to compare and then presented the results of each comparison, whether the correlation was positive, negative, or nonexistent; or whether the researcher simply looked through an extensive data set for correlations of a particular type and then reported on the ones that showed what they wanted to show.


caveat bettor

At the margin, prayer = complaining.



"I once considered how I would live my life if I ever became an atheist. I was shocked to find that I would still largely live my life as sincere Christian! Why?"

I realise that it must be a huge surprise to you that people not having the same beliefs as you can also be decent people. I hope you also realise that this is more than a little prejudice on your part.

Science Minded

Dear Will and Van;

To begin with, correlation is not causation and never will be.

Actually, Catholicism linked women with domesticity and the household. In that sense, it gave women a certain position and value inside the homi.e., defined women's lives and place as basically domestic. There are several sources confirming this thesis in the sociological literature. And I can see its relevance to my own and my mother's experience growing up here in America under a double standard. My mother did not listen to her father who encouraged her to become a lawyer, but her friends.


The curious thing about this is that, no matter what positive attributes one can find which result from religious belief, not one of them can possibly demonstrate the basic veracity of religion. That many religions and variations on religion all provide some of these apparent benefits, does absolutely nothing to show that any of them are actually true.

Nevertheless, believers will no doubt use this as part of their own apologetics. "See, believing in our god/gods is good for you!" they will say. Even though it does not mean that their god/gods even exist at all.

Not to mention what Will (#16) pointed out ... a sufficiently large data-mining expedition will always produce apparent positive correlations.