From a Pew study, research showed that 53% of people 65 years of age and over attend religious services compared to people ages 18-29, who stand at 33% (Liu, 2010). This twenty percent difference shows a lot about what is considered a priority to people across the lifespan. Younger people are getting in and out of college, trying to find a job they prefer, so attending mass or a service is not priority on someone’s list at that age. Around 65 years is a typical age of retirement, so with no job, people 65 and older have a lot more time on their hands. One stereotype about older adults is that they start attending service, volunteering or working for their local church. Through attending and helping, older adults can stay active in a local community and continue their social life, which benefits them. But what if going to religious services did not just help their social life, but their overall well-being too? Studies were found that looked at different ethnicities and different potential health problems related to older adults and how attending services consistently and participating in the church community could benefit them.
Religious attendance and age were the main focuses of one study performed by Wang, Kercher, Huang and Kosloski (2013), on older adults from retirement homes in Florida. The study was performed in waves, but only Wave 1 and 5-9 were used in this study. There were 1000 older adults, 72 years of age or older that participated. They participated in this longitudinal study for 90 minutes in an in-person interview. Researchers were trying to identify if a correlation existed between religious service attendance and age, and within that, what also affected attendance, including gender, education level, health, income, marital status and more. From the data collected, it showed that the majority of the participants were affiliated with a religion, but that majority attended services only one to three times per month. Religious belief did not change over time, but it showed that religious service attendance declined over time. The researchers concluded that there were too many variables that came into play to be able to conclude any correlation or relationship between aging and religious attendance, neither supporting, nor refuting the stereotype (Wang, Kercher, Huang & Kosloski, 2013).
Another study, performed by Banerjee, Strachan, Boyle, Anand and Oremus (2013), in Canada was researching whether there was a relationship between religious service attendance and the risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Based off the information of a qualitative study done by Statistics Canada, researchers found another group of participants who were like the participants in the comparative study. Participants were English-speaking, white citizens of Canada and had attended either a Catholic, Anglican or United religious service every week for the past year. Using focus groups and interviews, researchers studied ordained pastors and parishioners over the age of 55. The pastors and parishioners, with no previous knowledge about CHD, diabetes or high blood pressure, were asked questions regarding attending religious services and if they believed it benefited peoples’ health. The results showed participants agreed that regular service attendance promotes mental health and provides a setting where people coping with stress can talk about it during services in a comfortable, positive environment. The pastors and parishioners knew one way to better one’s mental and physical health was by social activity, and attending church services was one way to get social support from people of the same faith. In conclusion, the researchers determined that religious service attendance alone cannot lower a person’s risk of CHD, but it was a contributor in lowering the risk. This study supports the idea that attending religious services does benefit one as they get older (Banerjee, Strachan, Boyle, Anand & Oremus, (2013).
Hayward and Krause (2015) were comparing Mexican-Americans and non-Hispanic Whites in trying to find a difference if participating in the Catholic or Evangelical church benefits one’s well-being. The sample of 962 Mexican-Americans age 66 or older who were not working for pay at the time was from a 2010 study. A longitudinal study from 2001 to 2013 was used and a sample of 612 non-Hispanic Whites, who also were not working for pay at the time and were 66 years of age or older were taken. In this study, they looked at religious denomination (Catholic or Evangelical), attendance at religious services measured on a scale of 1 to 9, depression symptoms, demographics, life satisfaction, support from congregation and religious coping. The results showed bigger differences between Catholics and Evangelicals in the well-being of Mexican-Americans, while in the non-Hispanic White sample, there was not a significant difference. This may have to do with the attendance rates of each group. From this sample, more Mexican-American Evangelicals reported attending services more frequently than Mexican-American Catholics did. They found more Mexican-Americans were converting to Evangelism, and the Catholic population was decreasing. The researchers wondered if this had an effect on any of the variables they were considering. Life satisfaction overall was also higher for Mexican-Americans than non-Hispanic Whites. Depression symptoms were higher in non-Hispanic Whites of both denominations, as well as positive religious coping, which was slightly higher for both Mexican-American samples over the non-Hispanic Whites. In conclusion, researchers found that although more Mexican-Americans were converting to Evangelism, this conversion might contribute to why they had a higher life satisfaction rate than the Catholic Mexican-Americans. Although this study looked at the differences between only Catholicism and Evangelism between two racial groups, it still shows that religious attendance and participation can decrease one’s risk of depression, and increase life satisfaction, supporting the stereotype that religious attendance can better ones’ well-being. (Hayward & Krause, 2015).
In a study performed in 2014, researchers Cherry, Sampson, Nezat, Cacamo, Marks, and Galea, were looking at how people respond after a natural disaster, and what they did to cope with losses and poor outcomes. Participants were found via information postcards and word-of-mouth, ending in 219 people being included in the study. Participants were given different questionnaires regarding possible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, depression, anxiety, one’s religiosity, one’s perceived social support, and a storm questionnaire. After the data was collected and organized, it was found that there was a higher risk for PTSD for people who participate in non-organizational religion after a natural disaster. One possible relationship between people and their religion when a natural disaster hits is people falling away from their religion because they think God, or their Higher Being, should have not let a disaster happen. If this happened to someone at a younger age, this could damage their trust in God, making it difficult for them to join the faith again. Similarly, if this occurred when someone was an older adult, it would be difficult for someone to enter back into a faith as they may feel it is against them. This study does state limitations of their findings and how that could have skewed the results. The majority of participants labeled themselves Catholics, with fewer Protestants. So, the sample did not fully represent the population who are likely to be affected by natural disasters like hurricanes well enough to fairly describe the results. This study, aside from the stated limitations, would refute the idea that religious attendance does not necessarily benefit ones’ health and well-being, in this case, if a natural disaster hits, because many people seemed to lose hope and trust in their faith (Cherry, Sampson, Nezat, Cacamo, Marks & Galea, 2014).
In conclusion, half of the research articles were found to support the idea that faith and religious attendance seem to benefit older adults’ well-being. The other half either refuted the idea, or did not have enough proof to back up or disprove the stereotype. Most of the studies agreed the social aspect of religious services benefits people because they can find support groups and it gives them a purpose to go to church, requiring physical activity.
Banerjee, A. T., Strachan, P. H., Boyle, M. H., Anand, S. S., & Oremus, M. (2013). Attending Religious Services and Its Relationship with Coronary Heart Disease and Related Risk Factors in Older Adults: A Qualitative Study of Church Pastors’ and Parishioners’ Perspectives. Journal of Religion and Health, 53(6), 1770-1785. doi:10.1007/s10943-013-9783-1
Cherry, K. E., Sampson, L., Nezat, P. F., Cacamo, A., Marks, L. D., & Galea, S. (2014). Long-term psychological outcomes in older adults after disaster: relationships to religiosity and social support. Aging & Mental Health, 19(5), 430-443. doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.941325
Hayward, R. D., & Krause, N. (2015). Evangelical group membership, depression, and well-being among older Mexican Americans: a comparison with older non-Hispanic Whites. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 18(4), 273-285. doi:10.1080/13674676.2015.1022519
Liu, J. (2010, February 17). Religion Among the Millennials. Retrieved February 02, 2017, from http://www.pewforum.org/2010/02/17/religion-among-the-millennials/
Wang, K., Kercher, K., Huang, J., & Kosloski, K. (2013). Aging and Religious Participation in Late Life. Journal of Religion and Health, 53(5), 1514-1528. doi:10.1007/s10943-013-9741-y