January 12, 2008

Changes in Religious Activity Affect Men and Women Differently

According to Temple University, a new study conducted at Harvard by a researcher now at Temple and one at Brown reveals that religion may affect women and men differently when it comes to mental health.

Among persons for whom religious activity changes between childhood and adulthood, effects on mental health may differ by gender.
According to Temple University's Joanna Maselko, Sc.D., women who had stopped being religiously active were more than three times more likely to have suffered generalized anxiety and alcohol abuse/dependence than women who reported always having been active.
On the other hand, men seem to experience a very different pattern.
Conversely, men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression when compared to men who had always been religiously active.
Joanna Maselko, Assistant Professor of Public Health and co-author of the study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, offers the following possible explanation:
Women are simply more integrated into the social networks of their religious communities. When they stop attending religious services, they lose access to that network and all its potential benefits. Men may not be as integrated into the religious community in the first place and so may not suffer the negative consequences of leaving.
Interesting results, and this possible interpretation seems sound. I do however question another statement made by Maselko:
Everyone has some spirituality, whether it is an active part of their life or not; whether they are agnostic or atheist or just 'non- practicing.' These choices potentially have health implications, similar to the way that one's social networks do.
Without offering a clear definition, it is not clear what Maselko means by "spirituality," and I suppose it could be defined so broadly as to apply to everyone. Still, I do not believe I have any spirituality whatsoever, and I suspect I'm not unique in this.

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