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Why Do Religious People Live Longer?

August 15th, 2020

There is mounting evidence showing that religious people live longer than non-religious people.

Published in JAMA Psychiatry in May 2020, a study investigated the association between “deaths of despair” such as drug overdose and suicide, and religious service attendance. It found that people who attended weekly religious services had a significantly reduced risk of death. The study included 66,492 women and 43,131 men. Risk of death was reduced by 68% in the women’s group and 33% in the men’s group (1).

A 2018 study used data from obituaries. There were two study groups of 1096 and 505 individuals.The study determined that religiously affiliated people lived 9.45 years and 5.64 years longer than non-religiously affiliated people. This held true even when controlling for other lifespan extending factors. Religious people are associated with increased social engagement, more marital stability, and volunteering within communities, all of which have been associated with improved health. However, upon analysis, these factors only would have partially contributed to this increase in life span, with volunteering and social involvement only accounting for a less than one year portion of the years gained with religious subjects(3).

A 2009 meta analysis examined 91 separate studies and examined the relationship between religion and life span. This study showed that in healthy populations, religious subjects had an 18% lower chance of death. This health benefit remained when factoring in the effects of smoking, drinking, social relationships and other factors. Religious attendance at places like churches was associated with greater survival, and the religious group displayed reduced cardiovascular deaths(2).


1. Chen Y, Koh HK, Kawachi I, Botticelli M, VanderWeele TJ. Religious Service Attendance and Deaths Related to Drugs, Alcohol, and Suicide Among US Health Care Professionals. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(7):737–744. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0175 JAMA article

2. Chida Y, Steptoe A, Powell L, H: Religiosity/Spirituality and Mortality. Psychother Psychosom 2009;78:81-90. doi: 10.1159/000190791 Article

3. Laura E. Wallaace, Rebecca Anthony, Christian M. End, Baldwin M. Way. Does Religion Stave Off the Grave? Religious Affiliation in One’s Obituary and Longevity. Sage 2018;10:5:662-670 Article

By: Evan Redmond, Pharm.D.

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