Gender differences in religious practices, spiritual experiences and health: results from the US General Social Survey

Joanna Maselko, Laura D Kubzansky
Social Science & Medicine 2006, 62 (11): 2848-60
Even though a majority of Americans report having spiritual/religious beliefs, the role of different dimensions of spirituality/religiosity in health is not well understood. Moreover, given that the experience of spirituality/religiosity differs for men and women, it is possible that the strength of the association between spirituality/religiosity and health may also differ by gender. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between spirituality/religiosity and three markers of health and well-being, and any gender differences in these relationships. First, we test the hypothesis that engagement with formal religious institutions (i.e. public religious activity) will be more beneficial for men than for women and we examine the role of denominational affiliation in any observed differences. Second, we directly compare effects of three different kinds of religious activities (public and private religious activity and spiritual experience) on health and well-being. Data are from the 1998 US General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample of non-institutionalized adults. Participants were asked about the frequency of engaging in public and private religious activities and having spiritual experiences. Psychological distress, happiness and self-rated health were used as indicators of health and well-being. Results suggest that weekly public religious activity was significantly associated with better health and well-being. Furthermore, this relationship was stronger for men than women and was influenced by denominational affiliation. When public religious activity, private religious activity and spiritual experiences were considered simultaneously, public religious activity emerged as the most consistent predictor of health and well-being among men. Among women, both public religious activity and spiritual experiences maintained an independent association with the health and well-being. These results suggest that it may not be appropriate to generalize findings about the relationship between spirituality/religiosity and health from one form of spirituality/religiosity to another, across denominations, or to assume effects are uniform for men and women.


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