A new study shines light on the contributions of different aspects of religion on life expectancy and looks at what proportion of any extended life expectancy was disability-free.
Over 35,000 participants in the longitudinal Health and Retirement Survey were asked about the importance of religion in their lives, as well the frequency of their church attendance. Demographic information was also collected so that the researchers could statistically control for differences in demographics, socioeconomic status, and health.
Looking at the importance of religion in participants’ lives, women who considered religion to be very important had an increase in average life expectancy of 1.22 years over those for whom it was somewhat important, after controlling for other variables. Compared to those who considered religion not very important, added life expectancy increased to 1.82 years. Men also showed an increased life expectancy, though it was shorter at 1.06 years for very religious compared to somewhat religious men, with a similar difference compared to men for whom religion was not too important. Women who were very religious also had a longer disability-free life expectancy of 0.66 years, but this was not found for men.
Even greater increases in life expectancy were seen for religious service attendance. When adjusted for demographics, women who attended religious services weekly had an overall additional 1.86-year life expectancy compared to those who went less than weekly and 4.38 years longer than those who never attended church. For men, the increase was 0.66 and 2.63 years, respectively. Those who attended religious services weekly also showed greater non-disabled life expectancies prior to the onset of disability. The additional non-disability lifespan ranged from 1.68 to 3.63 years, depending on gender and amount of religious attendance.
This research suggests that participation in religious communities can have great benefits for older adults and that efforts should be taken to ensure that older adults can continue this participation.
Ofstedal MB, Chiu C-T, Jagger C, et al. Religion, life expectancy, and disability-free life expectancy among older women and men in the United States. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B (2018). DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gby098