People who practise religion live up to six years longer than their agnostic and atheist peers, according to a new study based on obituaries.
The difference between those who worship and those who are not part of a religious group could be thanks to a combination of social support, stress-relieving techniques and abstinence from unhealthy habits, the authors suggest.
The study was conducted by a team of Ohio University academics, including associate professor of psychology Dr Christian End. They analysed more than 1,500 obituaries from across the US in an attempt to work out how key aspects of people’s lives affect their lengths.
The obituaries that were used included details of religious affiliations, marriages, activities, hobbies and habits which are not otherwise found in census data.
The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science today, found that people whose obituary mentioned that they were religious lived, on average, an extra 5.64 years.
“The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” said Baldwin Way, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
For the main part of the study, the academics used more than 1,000 obituaries from newspapers in 42 states.
A further analysis of 500 obituaries from the Des Moines Register, a newspaper in Iowa, found that religion was associated with an extra 6.48 years of life.
“We found that volunteerism and involvement in social organisations only accounted for a little less than one year of the longevity boost that religious affiliation provided,” said the study’s lead author, Laura Wallace.
“There’s still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can’t explain.”
The report’s authors suggested that the enhanced life expectancy among religious people might be a result of their being more likely to abstain from alcohol and drugs – though such habits, or lack thereof, were not regularly recorded in obituaries.
Dr Way added that there also may be a benefit from “stress reducing” activities such as meditation, yoga or prayer.