A recent Gallup report reveals that religious individuals worldwide tend to exhibit more positivity, higher social support, and greater community involvement when compared to their non-religious counterparts. This comprehensive study, spanning a decade of data, highlights the complexity of measuring the well-being of religious people, and it emphasizes that the benefits of religion can vary significantly from one country to another. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that not everyone is equally interested in or receptive to the potential advantages of religious engagement.
The report, released on October 10, states, “Gallup World Poll data from 2012-2022 find, on a number of wellbeing measures, that people who are religious have better wellbeing than people who are not.”
To assess these differences, the study evaluated nine aspects of individuals’ lives, covering positive interactions, social lives, civic engagement, physical health, community basics, optimism, and more. Each of these nine indexes was scored on a scale from 0 to 100, based on responses to a series of questions.
For instance, the positive experience index included questions like “Did you smile or laugh today?” and “Were you treated with respect?” The civic engagement index inquired about charitable donations and assisting strangers, while the physical health index asked about limitations in performing typical age-related activities and the presence of physical pain. The community basics index explored housing and infrastructure.
Religious individuals scored higher than their non-religious counterparts on five of Gallup’s indexes: social life (77.6 compared to 73.7 for non-religious individuals), positive experience (69 to 65), community basics (59.7 to 55.6), optimism (49.4 to 48.4), and civic engagement (35.8 to 31).
In two indexes, religious and non-religious individuals showed similar scores: the “life evaluation” index, which assesses whether individuals are thriving or suffering, and their local economic confidence.
However, religious individuals scored lower on two other indexes: negative experience and physical health.
Notably, these differences between religious and non-religious individuals were most pronounced in highly religious countries. Even small variations can have significant global implications. The report states, “Each one-point difference in index scores between religious and nonreligious people represents an effect for an estimated 40 million adults worldwide.”
For example, the four-point difference in the Positive Experience Index means that approximately 160 million more adults globally have positive experiences due to their religious affiliation.
The report suggests that religion and spirituality might serve as valuable resources for addressing the mental health crisis prevalent in many countries. However, the report also highlights the declining interest in and engagement with religion.
Gallup partnered with the Radiant Foundation for this report. The Radiant Foundation is associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and promotes a positive view of religion and spirituality.
Jeff Jones, Gallup’s senior editor, commented on the complexity of quantifying the impact of religion and spirituality on well-being, especially as religious landscapes change and spiritual practices evolve. He noted, “With the changing nature of religious landscapes and spiritual practice, it can make quantitative measurement amid the changes challenging, as the traditional forms of spirituality — namely, attending formal religious services, are becoming less common, and people are seeking other ways to fulfill their spiritual needs.”
The report also cites several factors contributing to the decline of religious engagement around the world. These include growing polarization, which pits religious and non-religious individuals against each other, with the latter sometimes viewing the former as a threat. Religious groups, particularly from larger faith traditions, may wield their power in ways that others perceive as harmful.
The report suggests that “religious groups and individuals — particularly from the dominant religious group in a society — who are hostile to other religious groups may promote a cultural context that is harmful to the wellbeing of those outside the group. Resentment toward the dominant group may also tune people out to their messages, both those that are harmful (out-group animosity) but also that are helpful (serving others).”
The Gallup report provides valuable insights into the impact of religion on individuals’ well-being and the intricate dynamics at play in various countries. It underscores the potential benefits of religious engagement while acknowledging the challenges posed by the evolving landscape of spirituality and the declining interest in religion worldwide.