Role of Religiosity in the Lives of the Low-Income Population: A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence. Complexity of Findings

07/10/2009

A comprehensive study of a representative sample of African American women in east Detroit illustrates the complexity of the associations between organizational and nonorganizational religiosity on chronic conditions, disease, and general self-reported health status (van Olphen et al., 2003). This study finds that women who are church members are less likely to report better general health and more likely to report hypertension and diabetes than are women who are not church members. Church membership does not affect the likelihood of self-reported asthma or arthritis. Attending church frequently is associated with higher self-reported general health but is not related to any physical indicators. The importance of faith, an indicator of religiosity deemed important in these qualitative interviews, is associated with lower reported levels of arthritis and asthma, but not with any other indicators of general or physical health conditions. Prayer does not have any statistically significant effects on physical health.

Examining a subsample of the women who are church members, van Olphen et al. (2003) find that church social support partially mediates the direct effects of organizational and nonorganizational religiosity for asthma, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension and for general health outcomes. These results suggest that church social support is a significant pathway by which organizational religiosity can influence church members physical health.

Two studies find that organizational and nonorganizational religion could potentially work at cross-purposes in terms of influencing physical health outcomes. For the subgroup of African American women who are church members in the van Olphen et al. (2003) study, church attendance decreases the chances of reporting diabetes and hypertension while prayer increases the probability of reporting these diseases. The findings could reflect reverse causalityindividuals who develop these conditions may be more likely to start praying to cope with them. Similarly, Franzini et al. (2005) find that organizational religiosity is positively associated with self-rated general health and higher physical quality of life, while the nonorganizational religiosity index is negatively associated with both health outcomes. In this study, the divergent effects for organizational and nonorganizational religiosity remain significant despite the inclusion of control variables measuring respondents motivations for participating in religious organizations.

Table 5-2.
Summary of Religiosity and Physical Health in the Low-Income Population
Study Sample Key Control Variables1 Dependent Variable Measure of Religiosity2 Effect
van Olphen et al., 2003 Random sample of 679 African American women in east side of Detroit Physical functioning, church social support Combined measure of asthma and arthritis Church member
Importance of faith
Church attendance
Prayer
Null
-
Null

Null

van Olphen et al., 2003 Random sample of 679 African American women in east side of Detroit Physical functioning, church social support Combined measure of hypertension and diabetes   Church member
Importance of faith
Church attendance
Prayer
+
Null Null

Null

van Olphen et al., 2003 Random sample of 679 African American women in east side of Detroit Physical functioning, church social support General health Church member
Importance of faith
Church attendance
Prayer
-
+
Null Null
Franzini et al., 2005 Multistage probability sample of 3,203 individuals in 13 low-income communities in Houston Motivation to participate in religious organization, perceived racism, trust, personal opportunity, social support, victimization General health Organizational index
Nonorganizational index
+
-  
Franzini et al., 2005 Multistage probability sample of 3,203 individuals in 13 low-income communities in Houston Motivation to participate in religious organization, perceived racism, trust, personal opportunity, social support, victimization Physical QOL3 Organizational index
Nonorganizational index
+
-
Franzini & Fernandez-Esquer, 2004 Subsample of 1,745 Mexican-origin individuals from the sample described above Foreign born, language, all factors above except motivation Physical QOL3
General health
Church attendance,
Other activities in place of worship
Null
+
Tellez et al., 2006 Random sample of 1,005 African American caregivers with children under 6 in Detroit Emotional support, availability of services, physical health, contextual indicators Dental caries4 Religiosity5
Number of churches
-
-
  1. Includes independent variables other than basic demographics (race, age, marital status, gender, region)
  2. Includes single-item measures unless otherwise indicated
  3. QOL = quality of life; health-related quality of life indicator, the SF-12  social/family and emotional well-being
  4. Untreated decayed surfaces on teeth
  5. Very religious, fairly religious, not too religious, not religious at all

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