Religiosity and mental wellbeing among members of majority and minority religions: findings from Understanding Society, The UK Household Longitudinal Study

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

February 27, 2020


Objectives: To examine the associations between religious affiliation, religious service attendance, subjective religious beliefs and mental wellbeing among the religiously unaffiliated, Christians, Muslims, and members of other minority religions in the UK using a longitudinal design.
Methods: We used data from four waves (2009–2013) of the UK Understanding Society, a longitudinal household panel survey with over 70,000 individuals in 30,000 households which included 4,000 households from an Ethnic Minority Boost sample. We adjusted for potential confounders (including ethnicity, socioeconomic factors and personality) and accounted for household fixed effects that absorb unobserved confounding factors operating at the household level. Outcomes were the Shortened Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS) and the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ).
Results: Compared with Christians and the nonreligious, Muslims and members of other minority religions reported significantly lower mental wellbeing, indicated by higher SWEMWBS and lower GHQ scores. These differences were only partially accounted for by confounding factors, by ethnicity and by the mediators we examined. Amongst those with religious affiliations (Christians, Muslims, and others), higher religious service attendance was associated with higher SWEMWBS; amongst those with no religious affiliation, there was no association. Higher religious service attendance is associated with lower GHQ scores amongst those with and without religious affiliations. The subjective importance of religion was not associated with SWEMWBS yet was associated with higher GHQ scores.
Conclusions: Religious service attendance as opposed to the subjective importance of religion appears to have positive effects on mental wellbeing outcomes. This suggests that the positive effects of religion on mental health operate through social channels. Findings point to the potential benefit of secular alternatives to religious service attendance to improve population-wide mental wellbeing.

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Open Access

The copyright holder for this preprint is the author/funder, who has granted medRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

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