Most people attend church in order to strengthen their relationship with God. However, Harvard researchers have discovered regular church attendance strengthens our physical and mental health and especially our marriages. In short, compared to people who do not attend religious servcies, those who do tend to live happier, healthier lives.
The researchers studied nearly 75-thousand women, mostly white Christians, for a twenty year period. Compared to women who never attended religious services, women who attended more than once per week had 33% lower mortality risk and lived an average of five months longer. Those who attended a little less than that, once per week, had a 26% lower risk and those who attended less than once a week had 13% lower risk.
The study also found that women who attended religious services once per week or more had a 27% decreased risk of dying from heart problems and a 27% decreased risk of dying from cancer.
When it comes to mental health, percentage reductions were also visibile in the incidence of depression. Regular church attenders enjoyed a 28% decreased risk of depression compared to people who did not attend religious services.
The greatest difference between people who regularly attend religious services and those who do not is the incidence of divorce. People who attended relisiou services were 47% less likely to subsequently divorce.
Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele, from the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health
offers possible explainations for why religion strengthens marriage.
- Religious teachings often indicate that marriage is something sacred—that an important bond is created in the exchange of marriage vows. Attending religious services reinforces that message.
- Religious teachings also discourage or censure divorce to varying degrees across religious traditions, which may lead to lower rates of divorce; moreover, religious traditions also often have strong teachings against adultery, which is one of the strongest predictors of divorce.
- Religious teachings often place a strong emphasis on love and on putting the needs of others above one's own. This may also improve the quality of married life and lower the likelihood of divorce.
- Religious institutions often provide various types of family support, including a place for families to get to know one another and build relationships, programs for children, marital and pre-marital counseling, and retreats and workshops focused on building a good marriage. Religious communities can provide important resources for a healthy marriage.
VanderWeele added Harvard was not the first to look into the divorce rates comparing people who did not attend religious services and those who did, saying "A number of studies have found similar results: namely, that those who attend religious services are about 30 to 50 percent less likely to divorce than those who do not."
VanderWeele continued by saying, "Other research suggests that shared family religious activities and praying together are likewise associated with greater relationship satisfaction and greater levels of trust. Shared religious activities like praying together may help couples deal with stress, and allow them to focus on shared beliefs and hopes for the future, and deal constructively with problems in their relationship."