Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Idler on Religious Affiliation and Mortality

Transforming Chaplaincy welcomes guest commentator Ellen Idler, who is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor Sociology at Emory University. We thank Ellen for her insight today and encourage chaplains and researchers to explore the article. For this Idea in Brief, Idler comments on Ralston K, Walsh D, Feng Z, Dibben C, McCartney G, O’Reilly D (2017). “Do differences in religious affiliation explain high levels of excess mortality in the UK?” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 71(5). 

This paper, by UK researchers Ralston et al., inquires about the higher mortality rates in Scotland compared with England and Wales.  The researchers wondered if the higher rates of religious affiliation in England and Wales might explain all or part of the difference, in that religious affiliation might be a component of social capital.  The study analyzes population data, which is an advantage because there is no question of sampling bias, but it is a disadvantage in that the researchers are limited in their measurement of religion.  The only question is about nominal affiliation as Christian, non-Christian, or Not affiliated, so there is no distinction based on actual participation.  The analysis shows that religious affiliation does not help explain Scotland’s higher overall mortality rate, and provided only a slight attenuation of the difference for suicide-specific deaths.  The paper is a welcome addition to the literature on religion and mortality, and is especially valuable in its incorporation of religion into the social determinants of health framework.


Leave a Comment