Religiosity, psychological distress, and wellbeing: evaluating familial confounding with multicohort sibling data

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

November 16, 2021


Several studies have associated religiosity with better mental health, but these studies have only partially addressed the problem of confounding. The current study pooled data from multiple cohort studies with siblings to examine whether associations between religiosity and mental health are confounded by familial factors (i.e., shared family background and siblings’ shared genetics). Data were collected between 1982 and 2017. Mental health was assessed with self-reported psychological distress (including depressive symptoms) and psychological wellbeing. Religious attendance was associated with lower psychological distress (B=-0.14 standard-deviation difference between weekly vs never attendance, CI=-0.19, -0.09; n=24,598 pairs) and this was attenuated by almost half in the sibling analysis (B=-0.08, CI=-0.13, -0.04). Religious attendance was also related to higher wellbeing (B=0.29, CI=0.09, 0.50; n=3,728 pairs) and this estimate remained unchanged in sibling analysis. Results were similar for religiousness. The findings suggest that previous longitudinal studies may have overestimated the association between religiosity and psychological distress, as the sibling estimate was only one-third of the previously reported meta-analytic association (standardized correlation -0.03 vs -0.08).

Published in

American Journal of Epidemiology






Open Access

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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