While religion has been found to improve self-esteem and enhance psychological adjustment, a new study finds that these benefits are limited to settings that value religiosity.
Researchers used information from eDarling, a European dating site that is affiliated with eHarmony. Similar to eHarmony, eDarling uses a long questionnaire to match clients with potential dates.
Psychological profiles are developed from questions that assess the importance of religious beliefs as well as questions that determine social self-esteem and how psychologically well-adjusted people are.
In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, European researchers used 187,957 people’s answers for their analyses.
As in other studies, the researchers found that more religious people had higher social self-esteem and were psychologically better adjusted.
However, researchers believed the reason for this was that religious people are better in living up to their societal values in religious societies, which in turn should lead to higher social self-esteem and better psychological adjustment.
Study participants lived in 11 different European countries, ranging from Sweden, a country with low religious values, to devoutly Catholic Poland. Investigators used people’s answers to discern how religious the different countries were and then compared the countries.
On average, believers only received the psychological benefits of being religious if they lived in a country that values religiosity. In countries where most people aren’t religious, religious people didn’t have higher self-esteem.
“We think you only pat yourself on the back for being religious if you live in a social system that values religiosity,” said researcher Jochen Gebauer, Ph.D. So a very religious person might have high social self-esteem in religious Poland, but not in non-religious Sweden.
In this study, the researchers made comparisons between different countries, but another study found a similar effect within one country, between students at religious and non-religious universities.
“The same might be true when you compare different states in the U.S. or different cities,” Gebauer says.
“Probably you could mimic the same result in Germany, if you compare Bavaria where many people are religious and Berlin where very few people are religious.”