Religiosity has consistently been linked with above-average health. But research by psychologist Olga Stavrova adds a caveat. In a study that looked at surveys in 59 countries, she found that, after taking socioeconomic factors into account, the association between faith and health is far stronger in nations with a “social norm of religiosity”—that is, where devotion is common. For people who live in more secular societies, the impact appears to be small. This suggests the salutary effect of religion is the result of fitting in with one’s surroundings and the reduced stress levels this produces. So while belonging to a close-knit congregation can positively impact one’s health, the key factor isn’t the man upstairs, but the people next to you in the pew.
—“Religion, Self-Rated Health, and Mortality: Whether Religiosity Delays Death Depends on the Cultural Context,” Olga Stavrova, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2015.