Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Religious belief, devotion and well-being

Recently my thoughts turned to God, well religion. The fact that I was high in the sky (literally and neither metaphorically nor narcotically) may have had something to do with it. Some people have claimed that there are significant benefits to either being religious or to religous devotion (i.e. prayer). I think the Iona Institute published something on this a while back and I'm pretty sure that I was skeptical for a number of reasons, the most obvious one being that the results cited were just correlations rather than causal. To me, there is something rather profane about arguing the case for religion on the basis that it benefits you in this life. That said, several evangelists claim that God wants you to be rich and, if you buy their book, you will find out how (including "economist/entrepreneur/professor Paul Zane Pilzer"). But, nevertheless, if there are such benefits, they are scientifically interesting.
Leaving aside issues of causality for the moment, I thought it useful to examine the association between several measures of well-being and two measures of religion whether one is a believer and frequency of prayer. Without making any great claims, this is a bit more sophisticated than some studies I have seen.
The results below show a curious pattern. Both frequency of prayer and being a believer are positively associated with an ordinal measure of life satisfaction.
However using a measure of depression (the Euro-d scale) there is a paradox: believers are likely to have lower levels of depression (consistent with the first result, perhaps) but those who pray often are more likely to have depression. Curious, isn't it?
Of course life satisfaction and depression are not the same so we should not expect them to necessarily display the same patterns. It may be the case that endogeneity/reverse causality has something to do with this: perhaps depression drives you to pray more often. But then why not low life satisfaction also?
I have been done some work controlling for endogeneity with interesting results but what they are I am not going to tell you. All I will say is it beat the in-flight movie. Keep the faith, whatever that is.

............Satisfied (1-4). Depression (0-10)

pray-often: 0.0129* . 0.0830***

believer : 0.147*** . -0.275***

1st model is an ordered probit, 2nd model is an OLS regression

controls:age,marital status,education,height, cognitive ability,country effects
n=15,275. Data=SHARE.
Apologies for the lousy formatting.


Kevin Denny said...

I should have cited Jim Heckman's important recent study of how prayer influences God's attitude towards one.

Rob Gillanders said...

Theists have to be satisfied with life, or at least claim to be, or they'd be committing the sin of questioning the plan of whatever pixie\fairy\monster they believe they owe allegiance to. As for the depression thing: don’t mental illnesses come in twos?

Mark McG said...

Don't know what book those evangelists have been reading.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Mark 10:25

The other Mark that is. Not me.

Rob Gillanders said...

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,
and you may find yourself in another part of the world,
and you may ask yourself - Well? How did I get here?

David Byrne 1983

Kevin Denny said...

Indeed Rob I have..once in a lifetime! Though I am not sure of mental illnesses coming in two's.