Church attendance is linked to longer life, physical and psychological health, and greater marital stability, according to a new study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH).
The study was carried out over a period of 16 years, and found that people who attended religious services had fewer incidences of depression, less suicidal tendencies, and had lower risk of cardiovascular- and cancer-related mortality. People who attended church more frequently also had more stable marriages or had 47 percent less likelihood of divorce than other couples.
Other studies have also studied the relationship between religious attendance and marriage, and they found similar results of 30 to 50 percent decrease in instances of divorce among the couples who attended religious services. However, the school noted that earlier studies did not take into account a possibility that those couples who are nearing divorce cease to attend religious services. But this study took into account "the timing of changes in religious service attendance" so as to control for this angle, and the results showed a high degree of correlation between religion and stable marriages.
The same "reverse causation" applies to relationship between religion and health, as only the healthy can attend religious services implying that church attendance does not affect health. For this reason, the new study controlled for causes of attendance and mortality, and repeated measurements in a much-larger sample size (nearly 75,000).
The study also noted that women who frequently attended religious services (more than once a week) were 30 percent less likely to die during an almost two decades of follow-up as compared to women who never became a part of religious occasion.
"Religion is, of course, not principally about promoting physical health or decreasing the likelihood of divorce but about communion with God," said Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiology professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who is also the study's lead researcher. "However, it turns out that the pursuit of this goal also has profound implications for numerous other aspects of life, including health and marriage."
The data for the research was collected from Nurses' Health Study in which about 74,534 women, most Catholic and Protestant, participated. Their responses and statistics on health and family were examined by VanderWeele and his team of researchers at HSPH every four years between 1996 and 2012.
Some 40 percent of the Americans attend religious service once per week or more.