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Religion, Life Expectancy and Disability-Free Life Expectancy Among Older Women and Men in the United States

Publication Abstract

Ofstedal, Mary Beth, Chi-Tsun Chiu, Carol Jagger, Yasuhiko Saito, and Zachary S. Zimmer. Forthcoming. "Religion, Life Expectancy and Disability-Free Life Expectancy Among Older Women and Men in the United States." The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

OBJECTIVES Existing literature shows religion is associated with health and survival separately. We extend this literature by considering health and survival together using a multi-state life table approach to estimate total, disability-free and disabled life expectancy, separately for women and men, for two disability measures, and by two indicators of religion. METHOD Data come from the Health and Retirement Study (1998-2014 waves). Predictors include importance of religion and attendance at religious services. The disability measures are defined by ADLs and IADLs. Models control for sociodemographic and health covariates. RESULTS Attendance at religious services shows a strong and consistent association with life and health expectancy. Men and women who attend services at least once a week (compared to those who attend less frequently or never) have between 1.1 and 5.1 years longer total life expectancy and between 1.0 and 4.3 years longer ADL disability-free life expectancy. Findings for IADL disability are similar. Importance of religion is related to total and disabled life expectancy (both ADL and IADL), but the differentials are smaller and less consistent. Controlling for sociodemographic and health factors does not explain these associations. DISCUSSION By estimating total, disability-free and disabled life expectancy we are able to quantify the advantage of religion for health. Results are consistent with previous studies that have focused on health and mortality separately.


Population Health Aging & Retirement

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