surprising findings on religiosity and wellbeing across the globe

June 13, 2016 5:29 PM | Ofra Mayseless

I recently stumbled upon a paper that was very thought-provoking and challenged my views and I thought that it would be great to share this with you. The paper’s title already intrigued me – “The religion paradox: If religion makes people happy, why are so many dropping out?” and it was published in 2011 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Diener, Tay & Myers.

The study addressed the longstanding question of the association between religiosity and well-being. What is unique and fascinating about the study is that it used  data from representative samples from all the states in the USA and from 154 nations worldwide covering more than 95% of the earth’s population.  I especially liked their thorough and rigorous approach to theory and data analysis. The researchers used several indicators of religiosity and well-being and also looked at factors that moderate this association (e.g., in which nations religiosity shows stronger association with life satisfaction – can you guess?) and factors that mediate it such as social support, feeling respected and meaning in life. Which one do you think is the strongest mediator?

Their findings were surprising and got me thinking. For example, it appears that despite having 74% of respondents saying that religion is important in their lives there is high variability among states and countries. In societies with more difficult life conditions such as hunger and low life expectancy religiosity is more common and is associated as expected with higher wellbeing and this is mediated through greater social support, respect, meaning and purpose. But in societies with better circumstances religiosity is less prevalent and does not appear to contribute to wellbeing.  However, though religiosity in these societies was not associated with greater life satisfaction, positive feelings or negative feelings it was associated with higher meaning and purpose.  In fact even within the more religious societies meaning and purpose was the most strongly mediator associated with religiosity, much more than social support. These findings held true for each of the 4 largest religions. Interesting! right?  

Ofra Mayseless


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