WASHINGTON, D.C. — According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, participation in a religious congregation is a key factor to civic engagements, happiness and health.
People who are active in religious congregations tend to be happier and more civically engaged than either religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of survey data from the United States and more than two dozen other countries.
Religiously active people also tend to smoke and drink less. However, they are not healthier in terms of exercise frequency and rates of obesity.
In most countries, highly religious people are less likely to rate themselves as being in very good overall health – though the U.S. is among the possible exceptions.
Taking a broad, international approach to this topic, Pew Research Center researchers set out to determine whether religion has clearly positive, negative or mixed associations with eight different indicators of individual and societal well-being available from international surveys conducted over the past decade.
Specifically, this report examined survey respondents’ self-assessed levels of happiness, as well as five measures of individual health and two measures of civic participation.
The analysis finds that in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, regular participation in a religious community is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement (specifically, voting in elections and joining community groups or other voluntary organizations).
This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being.
But the analysis finds comparatively little evidence that religious affiliation, by itself, is associated with a greater likelihood of personal happiness or civic involvement.
Moreover, there is a mixed picture on the five health measures. In the U.S. and elsewhere, actively religious people are less likely than others to engage in certain behaviors that are sometimes viewed as sinful, such as smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol.
But religious activity does not have a clear association with how often people exercise or whether they are obese. And, after adjusting for differences in age, education, income and other factors, there is no statistical link between being actively religious and being in better self-reported overall health in any of the 26 countries and territories studied except Taiwan, Mexico and the United States.