Faith, morality and mortality: The ecological impact of religion on population health

Academic Article


  • Although the past decade has witnessed increased usage of ecological data to map the community-level effects of religion, the vast majority of studies in this body of scholarship continue to be plagued by two key shortcomings. First, ecological research on religion is often conducted in an atheoretical manner, one that privileges the structural character of religion while failing to demonstrate sensitivity to the substance of collectively held religious beliefs and values. Second, ecological scholarship often employs crude methodological techniques that overlook noteworthy distinctions within large religious collectivities (e.g., variants of conservative Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism). This study charts new theoretical and methodological directions in the use of ecological data by exploring the complex linkages between religious ecology and mortality in the United States. We hypothesize that the other-worldly theology and individualistic orientation found in conservative Protestantism dampens this faith tradition's commitment to population health, thereby leading to demonstrably different outcomes in mortality by denominational families. Also, drawing on previous work that criticizes the "monolithic bloc" depiction of conservative Protestantism, we hypothesize that important distinctions in mortality will be found when sub-groups of conservative Protestants (evangelicals, Pentecostals and fundamentalists) are compared because each of these factions exhibits distinct degrees of other-worldliness. Using restricted county-level data from the National Center for Health Statistics and 2000 Churches and Church Congregations data, we observe noteworthy religious differences in mortality, thereby underscoring a need for the development of more sophisticated theoretical and methodological approaches to the ecological study of religion. Ecological researchers are encouraged to take seriously the content of collectively held religious beliefs and exhibit sensitivity toward the distinctive worldviews that hold sway within particular faith traditions. © The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Social Forces  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Blanchard TC; Bartkowski JR; Matthews TL; Kerley KR
  • End Page

  • 1620
  • Volume

  • 86