Study finds: religious upbringing linked with healthier, happier young adulthood

A new study released by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that praticipation in spiritual practices during childhood can lead to better health and well-being during early adulthood. Researchers found that those who attended religious services or prayed daily throughout their upbringing reported greater positivity and more satisfaction in their lives in their 20s.

Science Magazine has first author Ying Chen remarking on the study results:

“These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices. Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”

The study, which was published online September 13, 2018 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed subjects were less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection than people raised with less regular spiritual habits. Previous studies have also suggested a link between religious upbringings and a reduced risk of premature death.

The study drew data from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) and their children in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). These samples included more than 5,000 youths who had been followed for between 8 and 14 years.

The results found that children who were exposed to religous services regularly were 18 percent more likely to report higher happiness during their young adulthood (age 23-30). These people were also 29 percent more likely to volunteer in their communities and 33 percent less likely to use illicit drugs.

The study also found that those who practiced daily prayer or meditation were 16 percent more likely to have a happier outlook in their early adulthood. These people were 30 percent less likely to begin having sex at a young age and 40 percent less likely to contract a sexually transmitted infection.

The study did note that it had limitations, primarily that the sample size was mostly children of white females with relatively high family socioeconomic status, although previous research by senior author Tyler VanderWeele suggests that the effects of early life religious service attendance may be greater for black versus white populations. Another limitation was that the study did not take into account the influences of family and peers.

Children praying at church

Overall the lasting effects of regular attendance to religious services and private daily prayer were practically the same. VanderWeele concluded:

“While decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, for adolescents who already hold religious beliefs, encouraging service attendance and private practices may be meaningful avenues to protect against some of the dangers of adolescence, including depression, substance abuse, and risk taking.”

“In addition, these practices may positively contribute to happiness, volunteering, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and to forgiveness.”



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