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Religion benefits the poor, study finds

30 August 2013

GUNNAR BACH PEDERSEN/WIKI COMMONS

Cultural convictions: a medieval fresco depicting St Clare and sisters of her order, the Poor Clares, in San Damiano, Assisi

Cultural convictions: a medieval fresco depicting St Clare and sisters of her order, the Poor Clares, in San Damiano, Assisi

THE "upside-down" values of the Kingdom of God, in which the poor are blessed, protect the mental health of poor religious people, and even that of poor non-religious people who live in societies where such values are promoted, new research suggests.

Researchers at Humboldt University in Berlin and the University of Southampton analysed data from almost 190,000 respondents, from 11 European countries, entered into eDarling, an online dating site. Existing research suggests that a higher income is related to better psychological well-being.

In the less religious cultures in the study (Sweden, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland), richer non-believers reported better psychological well-being than poorer non-believers. In the more religious cultures (Italy, Spain, Russia, Poland, Turkey), however, this was not the case. The researchers concluded that "culture-level religiosity buffers low-income's harms", even for the non-religious living in these societies.

In both sets of cultures, poorer believers reported better psychological adjustment than poorer non-believers. Again, the researchers pointed to the "buffer" effect of religion, which "bestows psychological benefits".

In the less religious cultures, richer believers were not better adjusted than richer non-believers; and in the religious cultures, richer believers reported worse psychological adjustment than poorer ones. The researchers concluded that religious individuals' "anti-wealth norms" reduce income's psychological benefits. They suggest that even non-religious individuals may derive less psychological benefit from wealth in religious cultures that promote such norms.

The authors conclude: "As long as religiosity fosters anti-wealth norms, it may undermine financial strivings and success both at the individual and culture level."

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