Religious Involvement in Older Adults

Religious Involvement in Older Adults
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  • 0:01 Factors in Religious…
  • 1:01 Age, Gender & Income
  • 2:23 Health Status
  • 3:50 Benefits & Challenges
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, we will look at the factors that influence the likelihood that an older adult will be involved in religion. We will look at the impacts on health and how different people experience religious practices.

Factors in Religious Involvement

Joanna is a 94-year old woman who is in good health despite her advancing age. She has had to cope with living with very little money for much of her life. Religion is an important aspect of her life, and she attends services and prays on a regular basis.

Anthony is a 55-year old man with plentiful financial resources. He, too, makes time for spiritual practices in his life, though he prefers to meditate on his own without a connection to a particular religious institution or doctrine.

In this lesson, we will look at trends in religious involvement in older adults in the United States and will relate them to the lives of Joanna and Anthony. The lesson will focus specifically on organized religion, like Joanna's.

We'll cover the benefits and challenges people experience as they age as it relates to their religion. We'll look at how socioeconomic status, age, and gender affect the likelihood of religious participation. We'll also learn more about the health impacts of religiosity.

Gender & Income

Age is a big factor in whether or not a person is involved in religion. For instance, those 58 years old and older tend to have an increase in belief in God compared with younger cohorts. This particular trend makes it more likely that Joanna, who is 94 years old, will have greater religious involvement than Anthony who is 55.

A person's socioeconomic status, affected in part by a person's income, is another factor in whether a person is more likely to be involved in religion. Joanna, who has less financial resources, is more likely to be religious than Anthony, who is wealthier. This tendency does not hold for every person. This is why you have some individuals who are both wealthy and religious and individuals who are less well-off and yet not religious.

What about being male or female? Women tend to be more involved in their faith than men. However, if Anthony did get involved in a religious institution, the likelihood of him taking on a role with a higher status is greater due to his gender and cultural support of men taking on leadership roles. He will typically receive even more mental health benefits than women of the same age, according to Professor of Sociology, MJ McFarland. This may be partly because of his higher status involvement and also because religion can provide a unique forum for a man to ask for and receive help.

Health Status

Those who are religious tend to be healthier. Does religion improve health? Or do healthy people seek out religion? This is an interesting debate, much like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

One theory is that Joanna may have tended to avoid risky behaviors, such as excessive drinking, during her life because this violated her religious beliefs, ultimately helping her to be healthy later in life. On the other hand, she also may have been drawn to the religion because she already avoided these behaviors.

Other beliefs are that religion may have influenced the health that Joanna enjoys at her age. Her practice of religion may have brought her comfort, helping her recover from medical challenges. She may have more connection with other people at her religious institution who can encourage her to stay healthy and help her to stay active and engaged. Any combination of factors could explain why a person who is religious tends to have better health outcomes.

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