Sullivan (2010) Mortality Differentials and Religion in the United States: Religious Affiliation and Attendance


There are a number of mortality differentials in the United States. One differential that is of interest is the relationship between religion and mortality in adults. A number of large datasets that are collected do not include religious affiliation. This focus on research has been conducted throughout Europe.
Sullivan used The Health and Retirement Study(HRS) which includes information on religious affiliation, religious activity, and various health risks for Americans age 50 years and older. The HRS is a longitudinal panel study. The sample included a variety of religious affiliation (largely Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical Protestant) and also those who were not religiously affiliated. The results of the study included gaps of at least six or more years of life expectancy difference between the groups in the sample.
The participants in the sample that were affiliated with the Jewish faith reported the highest life expectancy rate. Black Protestants reported the lowest life expectancy rate. A variety of mechanisms can be used to explain the differences between groups in relation to mortality and religion. One possible explanation for the differences in mortality and religion is health behaviors. Some religious denomination place a larger focus on health and wellness as being a central part of the faith practice. There are marked differences in SES levels and religious affiliation. This may be another factor that influences the relationship between mortality and religion. Religious attendance is linked to psychological aspects of life. Religious attendance also increases social networking for those who participate. The analysis tested three hypotheses. The results of the study indicated that even when controlled for SES conditions, Black Protestants faced higher mortality rates than other Mainline Protestants included in the sample. Black Protestants were found to have the lowest life expectancy rates of all other religious affiliated persons in the sample including those who were not religiously affiliated.
Some limitations to the study include broad findings that may not translate to the actual determinants that may be driving the relationship between mortality and religion for certain religious affiliations. The sample did not include other religious faith traditions such as Islam or Greek Orthodox. The lack of cultural diversity may also be seen as a limitation to the research.
1. What do the findings add to the discussion of Black mortality rates compared to other/race ethnicity groups?
2. What would the results have indicated if the sample included persons who were not affiliated with Western religions?
3. How do the results of the non-religious affiliated persons in the sample help to inform future research?


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