Friday, September 28, 2007

Do Christians live longer?

Here are some interesting data from a study by Hummer et al. (Demography, May 1999). They examined data from 21,000 individuals over an eight year period and observed death rates as a function of various personal characteristics, one of which was religious attendance.

From that they estimated life expectancies for sample members, and they found a suprisingly big difference.
So, a twenty year old who goes to church more than once a week can be expected to live 8 years longer than a twenty year old who doesn't go to church. (I.e., live to be 72.9 years old)

What does this mean? Well, the data don't have measures of types of religion, so we can't disentangle Christian vs. Jew vs. Muslim, but we can assume that he great majority of church goers in the sample are Christians.

Why does this occur? There's a big literature on "why" religion is associated with longer lives, which I may blog about some time, but for now it suffices to say that church going Christians live longer than people who don't go to church.

Next: Gender differences in religion and mortality

6 comments:

Ben Dubow said...

Interesting data Brad.

Besides the obvious "faith works" explanation, it seems like some other factors maybe at work too.

Here are some guesses:

(1) On average, I'll bet regular church-goers (and any religious-goer) are socially and relationally better connected. Research shows that this makes a big difference in health.

(2) On average, I'll bet regular church-goers who get sick, etc, have a better support network (social, visitation, meals, etc).

(3) On average, I'll bet there is a positive peer pressure within churches to have medical insurance, go to the doctor, and early intervention, etc.

(4) Prayer works.

Just my thoughts...

Brad Wright said...

Very good Ben, these are some of the mechanisms that researchers have identified...

Stephen Barry said...

That's interesting stuff. I think Ben makes some pretty insightful guesses as the reasoning behind this rather bizarre pattern. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on the driving force(s) behind these stats.

Jay Livingston said...

Wait a minute. Did this study control for sex? Women live longer. They also go to church more often. There may also be economic and social variables that need to be controlled. My guess is that poor, inner-city people have lower life-expectancy than suburban people, and that suburbanites also go to church more often.

Markus Watson said...

I gotta admit, I don't put a lot of stock in these kinds of statistics. And the question I ask is, if these are true and reliable statistics, what do we do with them in ministry? How are they useful?

Brad Wright said...

Very good questions, Jay and Markus. I put them on my Monday's post, to give them more space...