Increased life expectancy discourages religious participation

April 11, 2011, University of East Anglia

Churches will continue to attract older congregations as increasing life expectancy encourages people to put off involvement in religion, according to new research.

The study, by Dr Elissaios Papyrakis at the University of East Anglia and Dr Geethanjali Selvaretnam from the University of St Andrews in the UK, suggests that religious organisations need to do more to highlight the social and spiritual benefits of participation in religion in present day life if they are to increase congregation sizes and attract people of all ages, particularly young people.

Published online in the International Journal of Social Economics, the research looks at the impact of life expectancy on religiosity - the extent of religious dedication and expression - and the decisions made by individuals about when to become involved in religion. The study analyses religiosity using a cost-benefit , where decisions at each point in time depend on social and spiritual benefits attached to religious adherence, the probability of entering heaven in the afterlife, as well as the costs of formal religion in terms of time allocated to religious activities.

Dr Papyrakis and Dr Selvaretnam explain not only the downward trend in church attendance, but also the increase in the proportion of older people in congregations.

In recent years, religious establishments have been concerned about decreasing religious expression and participation in most parts of the world, particularly in developed economies, with many churches seeing older and dwindling congregations. In the UK, church attendance has been consistently on the decline in the past 50 years. However, in many sub-Saharan African and Latin American nations, for example, religious adherence remains strong.

Previous studies have attempted to attribute these differing patterns in religiosity to several socio-economic variables, including the level of economic development, government regulation of the 'religion market' and suppression of religion. This new research, entitled The Greying Church: the Impact of Life Expectancy on Religiosity, explores the role of life expectancy in explaining differences in religious expression around the world.

"The findings have important policy implications for what churches want to do and how they attract members," explained Dr Papyrakis, of the School of International Development at UEA. "Many religions and societies link to some degree the cumulative amount of religious effort to benefits in the afterlife. We show that higher life expectancy discounts expected benefits in the afterlife and is therefore likely to lead to postponement of religiosity, without necessarily jeopardising benefits in the afterlife.

"For this reason, religious organisations should be prepared to accept and attract a 'greying church', with membership skewed towards the older generation, particularly in countries which have high life expectancy or expect significant increases in life expectancy, for example due to improvements in medical care or declines in critical infection rates."

Dr Papyrakis added: "To increase overall attendance, religious establishments should aim to reduce any discomfort of entry to religious newcomers, both old and young. This may involve making information about the organisation easily accessible to them and helping new-comers to follow religious activities without feeling lost or uncomfortable.

"In light of rising life expectancy, it is important to emphasise socio-economic and spiritual benefits that can be enjoyed during one's lifetime on earth, for example expanding a person's social circle, communal activities, spiritual fulfilment, support and guidance, rather than uncertain rewards in the afterlife. These benefits can counterbalance the negative impact of life expectancy on – which in effect reduces concern about life after death – and therefore encourage religious involvement."

Religions that largely delink salvation/damnation to the timing and amount of religious effort will particularly need to resort to such means to boost membership numbers. In most religions, the perceived probability of entering heaven or hell depends to a certain degree on the individual's lifetime behaviour. The degree of this varies across religions, being relatively high in Buddhism and Catholicism, but lower in Protestantism. In Calvinism, in particular, salvation/damnation is largely seen as predestined.

In poorer countries where remains low, a larger share of the population, both young and old, is concerned about what happens after death, which naturally encourages religious participation.

Explore further: Study: Religious belief declines in Britain

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5 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2011
Life expectancy is only one trait that has changed in the past 50 years. I'd think it would be more tied to the broader accessibility of knowledge and therefore a greater ability to make informed judgements about the credibility of what you are being preached.

There is a causal link between level of education and religious devotion. It's very evident on the scale of countries.
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 11, 2011
A significant number of real Christians do not attend church simply because they are sick and tired of the false preachers who have essentially hi-jacked christianity and turned it into some sort of pyramid scheme, which it was never supposed to be.

Also, you should know that all save two of the signers of the declaration of independence had theology degrees, and several of the greatest physicists and chemists were Christian.

I also recommend that people put off "Religion", because "Religion" doesn't save anyone, and cannot save anyone, which the Bible even tells you (See Romans chapters 6 through 8).

But if by "Religion" they THINK they mean "serving God", then it is ironic that people think having a longer life expectancy changes anything morally or spiritually; as if all-powerful, all-knowing God doesn't know what they are doing.

The thief on the cross repented and was saved, because he didn't know any better. I doubt that's the case with most "last second" converts.
not rated yet Apr 12, 2011
After life is death. After death is fly-ash. There is no evidence to the contrary (wishful thinking and anecdote count for nothing).
1 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2011
A significant number of real Christians do not attend church simply because they are sick and tired of the false preachers who have essentially hi-jacked christianity and turned it into some sort of pyramid scheme, which it was never supposed to be.
Amen brother!

May I have permission to use this in the future?

5 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2011
Why do you believe that your sacred text is trustworthy?

"It's the word of God."
How do you know it's the word of God?
"Because it was written by humans directly inspired by God."
How do you know that?
"Because it says so in the text and the text is infallible."
How do you know the text is infallible?
"Because it's the word of God."

I'm very interested in how intelligent religious people rationalize this circular reasoning.

Also, saying that your religious text is NOT infallible completely ruins any credibility it has and by extension your religion has; so this is not a resolution.
not rated yet Apr 12, 2011
After life is death. After death is fly-ash.

That's what the bible indicates..

the living are conscious that they will die, but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6
The soul that is sinning - it itself will die. Ezekiel 18:4
The hour is coming, and it is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who have given heed will live. - Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment. John 5:25-29

Hell doesn't exist, it is a 'status' of beyond redemption.

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