Here's a quick one on a study of volunteering among older people. It's well known that religious people do more formal voluntary work, on average, than the non-religious. What's less well understood is why that should be.
Well, one other thing that's notable about religion in the USA is that it's more popular with women. And women also tend to volunteer more (well, both those 'facts' are more or less true depending on which study you look at).
In this new study, Lydia Manning of Miami University, analysed data from the Health and Retirement Study which, since 1992, has been tracking a group of over 12,000 retired people across the USA.Manning's analysis looked at the original 1992 survey, focusing on the 6,000-odd people who reported doing over 100 hours of voluntary work a year.
What she found was that women were much more likely to be volunteers - 15 times more likely, in fact. Once she took this into account, however, there was no relationship between religiosity and volunteering.
Now, there are a few deficiencies in this study - most notably that religion was only measured as affiliation (are you a Catholic, Protestant or whatever). Previous studies have shown that religious service attendance is, unsurprisingly, a better predictor of volunteering.
But Manning's study does reinforce a general point about these sorts of correctional studies. Religious and non-religious people are different for all sorts of reasons. You have to be very careful before assuming that religion is the cause of any differences you see.
Manning LK (2010). Gender and religious differences associated with volunteering in later life. Journal of women & aging, 22 (2), 125-35 PMID: 20408033
This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.
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