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Association between attendance at religious services and self-reported health in 22 European countries

Nicholson, Amanda and Rose, Richard and Bobak, Martin (2009) Association between attendance at religious services and self-reported health in 22 European countries. Social Science and Medicine, 69 (4). pp. 519-528. ISSN 0277-9536

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Abstract

There are consistent reports of protective associations between attendance at religious services and better self-rated health but existing data rarely consider the social or individual context of religious behaviour. This paper investigates whether attendance at religious services is associated with better self-rated health in diverse countries across Europe. It also explores whether the association varies with either individual-level (gender, educational, social contact) or country-level characteristics (overall level of religious practice, corruption, GDP). Cross-sectional data from round 2 of the European Social Survey were used and 18,328 men and 21,373 women from 22 European countries were included in multilevel analyses, with country as higher level. Compared to men who attended religious services at least once a week, men who never attended were almost twice as likely to describe their health as poor, with an age and education adjusted odds ratio of 1.83 [95% CI, 1.49–2.26]. A similar but weaker effect was seen in women, with an age and education adjusted odds ratio of 1.38 [1.19–1.61]. The associations were reduced only marginally in men by controlling for health status, social contact and country-level variables, but weakened in women. The relationships were stronger in people with longstanding illness, less than university education and in more affluent countries with lower levels of corruption and higher levels of religious belief. These analyses confirm that an association between less frequent attendance at religious services and poor health exists across Europe, but emphasise the importance of taking individual and contextual factors into account. It remains unclear to what extent the observed associations reflect reverse causality or are due to differing perceptions of health.