Religious affiliation linked to a longer life, according to analysis of obituaries

A study on obituaries provides evidence that being affiliated with a religion is associated with a longer life.

“I find it amazing that so many social factors have an influence on health,” said study author Laura E. Wallace of Ohio State University.

“Being healthy doesn’t just mean going to the gym and eating well. Our social worlds have such a large influence on our health as well. Religion is clearly one of these factors that makes a big difference.”

The researchers analyzed 505 obituaries from the Des Moines Register and 1,096 obituaries from 42 other cities across the United States. Their findings were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Wallace and her colleagues found that individuals who were identified in their obituaries as being involved with a religious institution tended to live significantly longer. On average, religious people lived about 10 years longer in Des Moines and about 5 years longer nationwide, compared to those without an apparent religious affiliation.

“Religion has a strong relationship with longevity. Our research suggests that, in part, this is due to the opportunities that religion provides to make social connections and give back to the community,” Wallace told PsyPost.

The study does have some limitations.

“Any single paper can only do so many things so, of course,” Wallace said. “In particular, we think that there are many pathways through which religion can influence health that we were not able to capture with obituaries.”

“For example, religions often promote stress-reducing practices through meditation or prayer, which has been associated with improved health. Understanding additional reasons that religion can influence health is an important question for future research.”

The study, “Does Religion Stave Off the Grave? Religious Affiliation in One’s Obituary and Longevity“, was authored by Laura E. Wallace, Rebecca Anthony, Christian M. End, and Baldwin M. Way.