Abstracts from Meta-Analytic Studies on the Health Benefits of Religiosity

I recently debated an atheist on the merits of religion and whether it is needed in modern society. The debate can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZ4FL-9Z3x8

I had researched findings from a variety of studies, including meta-analytic studies. Meta-analytic studies are studies that analyze the empirical results from other studies on the same variables to determine overall effect sizes. They are therefore regarded as superior to other studies because results mitigate any biases or non-replicable results, which are sometimes found in primary studies.

The atheist I debated is called Nick Lamar Soutter. He collected the studies I had posted on my blog on the health benefits of religiosity and atheism and over-emphasized a few points where the authors offered opinions on their findings, along with limitations. My article can be accessed here: https://christian-apologist.com/2017/08/23/health-correlates-of-religiosity-and-atheism-and-the-truth-will-set-you-free/

Rather than capitalize on such musings – or attempt to generalize the diverse results from various primary studies in a non-empirical way– the present article lists the abstracts from the meta-analytic studies I have found on the health associates of religiosity. Abstracts present the results of each study in a concise manner, eliminating randomness and authors’ unsupported assertions in their discussions and limitations sections. The results support the health benefits of religiosity.

Baier, C., & Wright, B. R. E. (2001). “If you love me, keep my commandments”: A meta-analysis of the effect of religion on crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 38, 3–21.

Do religious beliefs and behaviors deter criminal behavior? The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime. In this article, the authors address this controversial issue with a meta-analysis of 60 previous studies based on two questions: (1) What is the direction and magnitude of the effect of religion on crime? (2) Why have previous studies varied in their estimation of this effect? The results of the meta-analysis show that religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals’ criminal behavior. Furthermore, previous studies have systematically varied in their estimation of the religion-on-crime effect due to differences in both their conceptual and methodological approaches.

Jeynes, W. H. (2002). A meta-analysis of the effects of attending religious schools and religiosity on Black and Hispanic academic achievement. Education and Urban Society, 35, 27– 49.

Using meta-analysis, this study sought to determine the effects of religious schooling and personal religious commitment on African American and Hispanic students’ academic achievement. The results indicate that religious schooling and religious commitment each have a positive effect on academic achievement and school-related behavior. In the case of religious schooling, the effect sizes that emerged for religious schooling tended to be larger for older children. The effect sizes for religious schooling were even larger for school-related behavior than they were for academic achievement. The significance of these results is discussed.

Smith, T. B., McCullough, M. E., & Poll, J. (2003). Religiousness and depression: Evidence for a main effect and the moderating influence of stressful life events. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 614 – 636.

[Correction Notice: An erratum for this article was reported in Vol 130(1) of Psychological Bulletin (see record 2007-16852-001). In the article, the description on p. 616 (Other Potential Moderators of the Association section) of results from Burris’s (1994) previous study of intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientations and their associations with depressive symptoms was incorrect. Burris (1994) indeed found a positive association between extrinsic religious motivation and symptoms of depression. However, this effect was qualified by a significant Intrinsic × Extrinsic interaction, such that persons who scored high on both orientations reported more symptoms of depression than did persons who scored high on intrinsic orientation only, whereas persons who scored low on intrinsic orientation reported a depression level that was between those two groups. Furthermore, the effect size (r) reported in Table 2 (p. 619) for this study should be .23, not -.11, and the sample size should be 200, not 100. These corrections result in a change in the reported random effects weighted average effect size (r) across all 147 studies (reported on p. 623, Omnibus Analysis section) from -.096 to -.094. All substantive conclusions of the review remain the same.] The association between religiousness and depressive symptoms was examined with meta-analytic methods across 147 independent investigations (N = 98,975). Across all studies, the correlation between religiousness and depressive symptoms was -.096 [-.094], indicating that greater religiousness is mildly associated with fewer symptoms. The results were not moderated by gender, age, or ethnicity, but the religiousness- depression association was stronger in studies involving people who were undergoing stress due to recent life events. The results were also moderated by the type of measure of religiousness used in the study, with extrinsic religious orientation and negative religious coping (e.g., avoiding difficulties through religious activities, blaming God for difficulties) associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, the opposite direction of the overall findings.

Wu, A., Wang, J. & Jia, C. (2015). Religion and completed suicide: A meta-analysis. PLoS One. June 25.

Suicide is a major public health concern and a leading cause of death around the world. How religion influences the risk of completed suicide in different settings across the world requires clarification in order to best inform suicide prevention strategies.

A meta-analysis using search results from Pubmed and Web of Science databases was conducted following PRISMA protocol and using the keywords “religion” or “religious” or “religiosity” or “spiritual” or “spirituality” plus “suicide” or “suicidality” or “suicide attempt”. Random and fixed effects models were used to generate pooled ORs and I2 values. Sub-analyses were conducted among the following categories: young age (<45 yo), older age (≥45 yo), western culture, eastern culture, and religious homogeneity.

Nine studies that altogether evaluated 2339 suicide cases and 5252 comparison participants met all selection criteria and were included in the meta-analysis. The meta-analysis suggested an overall protective effect of religiosity from completed suicide with a pooled OR [odds ratio] of 0.38 (95% CI: 0.21-0.71) and I2 [heterogeneity] of 91%. Sub-analyses similarly revealed significant protective effects for studies performed in western cultures (OR = 0.29, 95% CI: 0.18-0.46), areas with religious homogeneity (OR = 0.18, 95% CI: 0.13-0.26), and among older populations (OR = 0.42, 95% CI: 0.21-0.84). High heterogeneity of our meta-analysis was attributed to three studies in which the methods varied from the other six.

Religion plays a protective role against suicide in a majority of settings where suicide research is conducted. However, this effect varies based on the cultural and religious context. Therefore, public health professionals need to strongly consider the current social and religious atmosphere of a given population when designing suicide prevention strategies.


In conclusion, the results indicate that religious beliefs exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals’ criminal behavior. Religious schooling and religious commitment each have a positive effect on academic achievement and school-related behavior. The correlation between religiousness and depressive symptoms was -.094, indicating that greater religiousness is mildly associated with fewer symptoms of depression. More specifically, intrinsic religiosity (which is mature beliefs) relates to fewer symptoms, while extrinsic religiosity (immature beliefs) and negative coping have the opposite impact.  This Religiosity has an overall protective effect from completed suicide, particularly in western cultures, areas with religious homogeneity, and older populations. Sorry atheists, but the benefits are clear.

Thank you for your time.

5 Replies to “Abstracts from Meta-Analytic Studies on the Health Benefits of Religiosity”

  1. You can show that religion may have a beneficial effect. That people may stop doing something because of belief in a god and its rules is indeed likely. However, this does nothing to support the claim that there is a god of any type. In that any religion can be shown to have this effect, indicates that it is the social aspect of religion, rather than any magic going on from any particular god. .


    1. I’d hate to accuse you of cherry picking, Nick, but why did you not mention the Byrd et al. 2007 findings, which used regression analyses to find predictive relationships between intrinsic religiosity and a sense of purpose and subjective well-being.


  2. Nick: I’ve updated my health benefits study with specific quotes from a number of studies you’ve mentioned – highlighting both positive and negative issues. Overall, the meta-analytic studies show that religiosity is a net positive. That’s why I posted their full abstracts. I don’t want to just cherry pick the good stuff.


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