Minorities + Religion = Depression

A new longitudinal study shows that for whites and blacks, religious participation leads to “fewer symptoms of depression.” No surprise there. You figure life won’t be as bad when you’re part of a tight knit community.

But surprisingly, the same stat doesn’t hold true for everyone:

… for some Latino and Asian-American adolescents, attending church more often was actually affecting their mood in a negative way.

Asian-American adolescents who reported high levels of participation in their church had the highest number of depressive symptoms among teens of their race.

Likewise, Latino adolescents who were highly active in their church were more depressed than their peers who went to church less often. Females of all races and ethnic groups were also more likely to have symptoms of depression than males overall.

It gets worse for minority women. For example, Asian females have it pretty bad. The authors say this in the discussion section of the paper:

Asian girls who attend religious services may not only experience psychological and social tensions between religious, Asian, and mainstream cultures, but may also suffer from a subordinate status within the religious institutions they attend, contributing to higher depression.

The obvious question: Why do you think this is the case?

An abstract of the main paper is here but you can just read the entire thing for free.

Incidentally, I also found this chart posted by Razib to be very interesting:

Religious Beliefs and Practices, By Race
(Source: The Barna Group, Ventura, CA)

whiteblackHispanicAsian
Read the Bible in the last week 36%59%39%20%
Attended religious service in past week41%48%38%23%
Prayed to God in the past week 81%91%86%46%
Participated in a small group, past week16%31%27%13%
Bible is totally accurate (strongly agree) 36%57%40%24%
Satan is not a living being (strongly disagree) 30%27%30%14%
Jesus Christ sinned while on earth (strongly disagree)37%49%35%22%
Born again Christian41%47%29%12%
Atheist or agnostic12%5%7%20%
Aligned with a non-christian faith 11%12%10%45%
Subgroup size169533036094


  • Christophe Thill

    White, black, hispanic, asian… So that’s how you divide people into group? This is terribly silly, and any analysis that rests upon this can’t be expected to go very far.

  • Cathy

    Corolation does not prove causation. Consider the way non religious peopleare treated in US culture and that might explain higher rates of depression (in contrast to the mainstream media interpretation that religion leads to happiness). I would love to see a cross cultural study of a majority atheist country like Sweden.

  • Richard Wade

    … for some Latino and Asian-American adolescents, attending church more often was actually affecting their mood in a negative way.

    Now hold on a second. This study warrants the fish eye. Just a quick glance at this study shows some problems. Here are four:

    Correlation does not mean causation. To say that church attendance is “affecting” depressed mood is synonymous to “causing” depressed mood. The two factors may go together statistically but one does not necessarily cause the other. They both might be part of a whole set of lifestyle features. They both could be caused by some other factor.

    The measure of depressive features seems to be entirely self reported or parent reported, rather than measured by a standardized test for depressive symptoms. People have all sorts of interpretations of various behaviors surrounding depression, as well as all sorts of reasons to over report or more likely under report such symptoms in themselves and their children. If that was the methodology for measuring “depression” it is not a credible source for data.

    The asian and latino samples were compared with the white and black samples reporting the same level of church attendance. Were the general populations of these ethnic groups compared to each other for levels of depression? In other words, if the larger Asian and Latino populations show more depression regardless of church attendance, then that difference would have to be factored in to see if the church attendance really correlated so strongly.

    One of the items in the chart above is worded very confusingly with double negatives: “Satan is not a living being (strongly disagree)” One has to stop and figure that out. Why was it not worded, “Satan is a living being (strongly agree)? It is confusing, and if it is an example of other poorly worded items in the survey, there could be many errors caused by participant confusion.

  • Richard Wade

    Ah, I see that the chart is part of a different study. Still, the poorly worded item warrants caution about its validity.

  • http://www.mindblink.org Linda

    There’s so much more to the complexities of a culture than what meets the eye. I would guess religion is only a small part of the underlying issues involving depression among the youths in those cultures.

  • Miko

    One of the items in the chart above is worded very confusingly with double negatives: “Satan is not a living being (strongly disagree)” One has to stop and figure that out. Why was it not worded, “Satan is a living being (strongly agree)? It is confusing, and if it is an example of other poorly worded items in the survey, there could be many errors caused by participant confusion.

    So, do you have a similar objection to the question “atheist or agnostic” instead of “theist or gnostic” and “aligned with a non-christian [sic] faith” instead of “aligned with a Christian faith?”

    As a side note, there’s been a demonstrated effect (at a statistically significant level) for people to pick the first option they’re presented with more often they should, so ideally the way to do something like this is to have both positive and negative versions of each question and randomize which one each respondent gets so that the first-option bias would wash out.

  • Tom

    My guess is that it has to do with the type of church/religion that asians/hispanics attend. More specifically, they don’t attend evangelical churches but rather traditional, less community-centric churches. For instance, Catholic churches (hispanics). For asians, everyone knows they’re more shy then everyone else! While I joke, I think it’s somewhat true. Shyness isn’t a great trait for communities

  • Richard Wade

    Miko,

    So, do you have a similar objection to the question “atheist or agnostic” instead of “theist or gnostic” and “aligned with a non-christian [sic] faith” instead of “aligned with a Christian faith?”

    Is this a serious question? The chart above is a compilation of some of the responses from items in a survey. Some of the captions have clearly been abreviated from their original question form, such as the phrase “atheist or agnostic.” I would have a similar objection if the question item on the survey had meaning-flipping negatives like, “Do you disagree with the statement that you are not an atheist or an agnostic?” I’ve actually seen surveys with such silly word puzzles for questions. They’re measuring how sharp the respondent’s grasp of sentence structure is rather than their opinion of the content of the question.

    Perhaps your question is a rhetorical one, making a statement about the nature of the terms “atheist” and “agnostic” being counter-terms, with their built in negation in the prefix “a” meaning “not.” Yeah, yeah, I suppose it would be nice to have a pro-term rather than a counter term but I don’t really care that much. There is so much confusion and misconception about those terms among both believers and non-believers alike that I’ve just about given up on trying to clarify them to either side. I’d venture to say that there are probably even fewer people who understand correctly what “theist” and “gnostic” actually mean, so no, I don’t think wording questions in surveys like this with those terms instead would be a good idea.

    Miko, as to your side note I think that your proposal of randomizing the order of choices in either/or choice questions within a sample is a very good idea. (I’d still steer away from questions asked with negatives like the silly one I described. Keep the questions as short and simple as possible.) The cost of printing and scoring the surveys would be a little higher, but I think it would be worth the increased apparent validity.

  • http://betweenmirrors.blogspot.com Etc.

    Lol. I’m an Asian girl, and an atheist. My parents made me go to Sunday school with a whole bunch of other Asian kids though, and I have to say that we didn’t even study the bible. We studied math and science, to “better prepare us for college”. XD Perhaps that’s why we were all so depressed?

    Also, I find it interesting that the Asian group has the most extreme stats in the chart: most, or least. =]

  • gmcfly

    Having attended Asian churches since childhood, and being driven to depression by it, I’ve got a lot of strong opinions about this. No rigorous data, just my own impressions:

    - In general, Asian youth groups are extremely cliquey. I don’t know if this is unique to this minority, but it’s true for Asians.

    - Asian culture already emphasizes humility and self-effacement (especially for girls), unlike white or black culture, which emphasizes self-empowerment and assertiveness. Add to that the things preached in church about all humanity being evil and sinful, and having to confess your sins and endure shame in order to be accepted — and I wouldn’t be surprised if these girls have very little self-esteem.

    - Asian parents are less supportive of spending so much time in church, when these kids should be focusing on academics. Church people want them to serve the church more and put God as their first priority. These kids are put in the tough position of negotiating the opposing expectations of the people they love.


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