Field of Science

Being religious doesn't make the English happier



It's one of those givens that everyone accepts. Religious people are happier people. Now, you can argue why that might be - perhaps it's the social activities, perhaps it's the confidence that comes from believing in some kind of guardian angel.

Or maybe it's simply what comes from being in the mainstream. In most countries, being non-religious is a minority pursuit - and that's especially the case in the USA, where most research is done.

So it's nice to see some research from the UK. Claudia Cooper, a psychiatrist at University College London, analysed data from over 7,000 people who took part in the 2007 English National Psychiatric Morbidity survey.

On the whole, the English are a happy bunch. 40% said they were very happy, and only 8% said they were not too happy. And the English are an irreligious bunch - 60% of them never go to Church, and they scored on average about 10 on a 20-point scale measuring religious and spiritual beliefs.

In common with other surveys, there was no relationship between religious/spiritual beliefs and happiness. Stronger god-belief did not equate to more happiness.

There was, however, a small, statistically significant link between attending Church (or Mosque, or Synagogue) and happiness. That's what I've shown in the graph.

That's pretty similar to what other surveys have shown. But what's interesting is that Cooper broke down the results by age. She found that the 'happiness effect' of going to Church only appeared in the over 80s.

The very old tend to be more religious than younger people, but actually less likely to go to church than those aged 60-80 (probably because of ill health). Perhaps, as a result, they have fewer alternative social support networks. Or perhaps it's simply that those who are well enough to get out to Church are happier just because they are healthier!

Whatever the reason, these data show that for English people under 80 years old, there is no link at all between religion and happiness.


ResearchBlogging.orgCooper, C., Bebbington, P., King, M., Jenkins, R., Farrell, M., Brugha, T., McManus, S., Stewart, R., & Livingston, G. (2011). Happiness across age groups: results from the 2007 National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 26 (6), 608-614 DOI: 10.1002/gps.2570

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. This is a nice little study, and thanks for drawing our attention to it. You might want to correct the title of your graph, by the way. As I understand it, the study only looked at English people, not the whole of the UK. Apart from this being an important distinction for its own sake (confusing the two annoys Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish people no end), it may be rather an important distinction here. All four parts of the UK have different religious histories, and it wouldn't surprise me if the relationship were different in Northern Ireland in particular (although Wales and Scotland have their own religious peculiarities too)

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  3. Great post.
    You said, On the whole, the English are a happy bunch. 40% said they were very happy, and only 8% said they were not too happy.

    40%
    Are we Americans less happy? I forgot if you posted on this.
    So, garicgymro, who is happier, the Irish, the Scotts or the Welsh --- actually my image is in that order with the Brits after the Irish.

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  5. "So, garicgymro, who is happier, the Irish, the Scotts or the Welsh"

    Good question. By reputation at least, I think everyone gets dourer the further north you go...

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  6. Yeah - you're right, the graph needs to be fixed. No time to do it (tonight have been out all evening leafleting for the vote tomorrow)!

    Sabio, happiness is something that's really difficult to assess across nations, and to be honest I can't answer your question :) there is a database on it here, if you want to dig around: http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl/

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