Findings from a study published in Personality and Individual Differences revealed a small positive correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction. However, the 20-year study found no evidence of a causal relationship between the two variables — changes in a person’s level of religiosity were not followed by changes in that same individual’s life satisfaction.
Meta-analyses have pointed to a positive relationship between religiosity and a person’s evaluation of their life, suggesting that people who are more religious tend to feel better about their lives. But researcher Mohsen Joshanloo remarks that these studies have not offered strong evidence of a causal relationship between the two variables.
As Joshanloo shares, previous studies have not differentiated between-person variance from within-person variance when analyzing change in the variables. The researcher sought to conduct a study using a statistical technique called the Random-Intercept Cross-Lagged Panel Model (RI-CLPM) that allows this separation of variance. With a longitudinal study, this method would allow him to assess whether fluctuations in a person’s level of religiosity would be followed by fluctuations in that person’s life satisfaction.
The data from the study was collected from three waves of the Midlife in the United States project, which involved 4,167 respondents who were an average age of 47 at the start of the study. Each wave was conducted ten years apart, with the data spanning a total of 20 years. At each wave, participants completed a measure of life satisfaction that addressed their satisfaction with life, health, work, their relationship with their partner, and their relationship with their children. They also completed a 6-item measure of religiosity that incorporated both general religiosity and religious identity.
First, when comparing religious and nonreligious respondents, results were in line with previous studies. In general, those who were religious reported somewhat higher levels of life satisfaction. This was demonstrated by a small positive correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction at the between-person level. Notably, while this finding reveals an association between the two variables, it does not offer insight into the directionality of this effect.
At the within-person level, religiosity and life satisfaction were unrelated. In other words, changes in a person’s religiosity were not followed by changes in that same person’s life satisfaction at a later time point. This demonstrates a lack of temporal relationship between the variables. Joshanloo reports that these findings suggest that “some (or much) of the shared variance between religiosity and well-being documented in previous studies is attributable to the time-invariant sources of variance, and is not temporal.”
The study author notes that these results need to be evaluated within the context of the study. For example, the measurements were taken ten years apart, which is a relatively long time period. Observations obtained within shorter time intervals may reveal a stronger or weaker link between religiosity and life satisfaction. Additionally, the current study was conducted among a general sample of U.S. residents, but previous studies suggest that specific samples such as hospital patients may yield different results. Samples pooled from more or less religious countries may also generate different findings.
“Future studies need to expand the present findings by using various lag lengths, culturally and demographically diverse samples, and multidimensional measures of well-being and religiosity,” Joshanloo concludes.
The study, “Within-person relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction: A 20-year study”, was authored by Mohsen Joshanloo.