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Did you know that religious persons are not generally more satisfied with life than nonreligious persons?

July 2020

Previous research has predominantly found evidence for a universal and linear relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction, which has led to the conclusion that highly religious persons are more satisfied with life than weakly religious persons who in turn are more satisfied with life than the nonreligious. However, these studies mainly focused on US American samples without taking the influence of differences between countries into consideration, as well as having included only few nonreligious persons and not having differentiated between (non)religious subgroups.

In a new study, ISS researchers Katharina Pöhls, Thomas Schlösser and Detlef Fetchenhauer reexamined the relationship between (non)religiosity and life satisfaction in a cultural comparison across 24 countries while taking the influence of differences between countries and between (non)religious subgroups into account. On the basis of data from the World Values Survey, they compared the life satisfaction of persons who self-identified as either highly religious, weakly religious, not religious, or specifically atheist and who lived in countries with different levels of average religiosity and standard of living.

When the influence of a country’s average level of religiosity and standard of living on the relationship between (non)religiosity and life satisfaction was considered, weakly religious persons were on average less satisfied with life than highly religious persons, while atheist and other non-religious individuals’ average life satisfaction did not differ from highly religious persons’ life satisfaction. Especially atheists’ life satisfaction varied with whether they lived in highly religious or in rather secular societies with many likeminded people.

These results contradict a universal and linear relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction and establish the need for including not only the (religious/nonreligious) belief content of a person, but also the belief certainty and characteristics of the cultural context in future research on this relationship.