People who are active in religious congregations tend to be happier and more civically engaged than either religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups, according to a new study by Pew Research Center. The findings were taken from survey data from the United States and more than two dozen other Christian-majority nations.
Pew 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 (specifically, voting in elections and joining community groups or other voluntary organizations). The analysis also finds almost no evidence that religious affiliation, by itself, is associated with a greater likelihood of personal happiness or civic involvement.
The study divides people into three categories: “Actively religious,” made up of people who identify with a religious group and say they attend services at least once a month (“actives”); “inactively religious,” defined as those who claim a religious identity but attend services less often ( “inactives”); and “religiously unaffiliated,” people who do not identify with any organized religion (“nones”).
More than one-third of actively religious U.S. adults (36 percent) describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans. Across 25 other countries for which data are available, actives report being happier than the unaffiliated by a statistically significant margin in almost half (12 countries), and happier than inactively religious adults in roughly one-third (nine) of the countries. There is no country in which the data show that actives are significantly less happy than others.
Similarly, people who are actively religious are also more likely to be active in voluntary and community groups. According to the study, 58 percent of actively religious adults in the U.S. say they are also active in at least one other (nonreligious) kind of voluntary organization, including charity groups, sports clubs, or labor unions. Only about half of all inactively religious adults (51 percent) and fewer than half of the unaffiliated (39 percent) say the same.
In addition, a higher percentage of actively religious adults in the U.S. (69 percent) say they always vote in national elections than do either inactives (59 percent) or the unaffiliated (48 percent).
A key takeaway, as Pew notes, is that 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.