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Pew: Church good for happiness, civic engagement

WASHINGTON (BP) — Church participation leads to more happiness and civic engagement, Pew Research Center said Thursday (Jan. 31) after analyzing surveys from the U.S. and 25 other countries.

Religiously active people also tend to smoke and drink alcoholic beverages less than others, Pew said in its findings. But church participation had no clear positive outcomes for health, obesity and exercise, with results varying among countries studied.

“This analysis finds that in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, regular participation in a religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement,” Pew said, citing civic activities such as voting, joining community groups and volunteering.

Religious affiliation without participation does not lead to the same positive outcomes, Pew found.

“This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being,” Pew said. “But the analysis finds comparatively little evidence that religious affiliation, by itself, is associated with a greater likelihood of personal happiness or civic involvement.”

Pew describes actively religious people as those who identify with a religious group and attend church services at least monthly.

Among key findings, actively religious people described themselves as very happy at higher rates than others in 24 of the countries studied.

In the U.S., 36 percent of actively religious people said they were very happy, compared to 25 percent of inactive religious people and 25 percent of those unaffiliated with any religious group.

Also in the U.S., 96 percent of religiously active people said they avoid frequent drinking, compared to 92 percent of religiously inactive people and 90 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

Among religiously active Americans, only 32 percent say they are in very good health, although 85 percent don’t smoke, 64 percent exercise several times a week, and 72 percent are not obese.

Civically, 69 percent of religiously active Americans vote in national elections, and 58 percent belong to at least one nonreligious group. Those rates compare to 39 percent of the religiously unaffiliated who are members of at least one nonreligious group, and 48 percent of the religiously unaffiliated who always vote in national elections.

Surveys found the highest rates of very happy people among religiously active people in Mexico, 71 percent; Colombia, 58 percent; and Ecuador, 56 percent. Higher rates of religiously unaffiliated people said they were very happy in Spain, 18 percent compared to 13 percent of the religiously active, and Belarus, 13 percent compared to 11 percent.

Australia registered the highest voting rate among religiously active people at 94 percent, although 90 percent of Australians who are religiously unaffiliated said they do the same. In total, religiously active people in 17 of the countries studied voted in national elections at higher rates than Americans, Pew found.

Religiously active people judged themselves to be in very good health at the highest rate in South Africa, at 42 percent. Although a greater percentage of the religiously inactive, 44 percent, said the same there.

Pew judged the impact of religious participation on eight indicators of well-being, and based its interpretations on three surveys described as well-established data sets. Included are the World Values Survey from 2010-2014, the 2011 Health and Health Care Module of the International Social Survey Program, and Pew surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013.

In addition to the U.S., Pew studied Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Estonia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, the Ukraine and Uruguay.