October 2, 2011
Is religion a ‘crutch for the weak’? This column looks at data on religion and life satisfaction from across the globe and argues that it might just be insurance for the unhappy.
Modern happiness research leaves no doubt that religious people are happier than their contemporaries. And the causality runs from religion to happiness (though it might also be possible that religious people are less interested in material aspects and, therefore, less affluent).
- One of the studies supporting this assumption was provided by Headey et al. (2010). Based on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, they find that individuals who turn to religion over time become, ceteris paribus, more satisfied, while those turning away from it suffer a loss in their quality of life.
- A comparison of multivariate estimates of happiness functions shows that, even when controlling for other influences, deism is highly positively correlated with life satisfaction across all countries (Frey and Stutzer 2002, Dolan et al. 2008, Frey 2010).
In the US, for example, 48% of those who describe themselves as "very happy" attend church service at least once a week; this compares to a share of merely 26% made up by those who never go to church (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2007).
But the relevance of these results is not only restricted to the individual level. Focusing on whole countries as units of measurement, receding religiousness could be a predictor of a decline in life quality, all other factors held constant. Given the fact that life satisfaction eventually also influences productivity, it becomes clear why the topic should be policy relevant.