Church-going makes Latino and Asian-American kids depressed

Church-going makes Latino and Asian-American kids depressed September 5, 2008

On the whole, within any given society those people who are members of religious groups are happier than people outside religious groups. A lot of studies on religion and happiness are done in the USA, where religion has a larger role in most people’s lives than it does in Europe. But even in Europe religion = happiness for the average individual. This isn’t true at a societal level, of course – religious countries tend to be poorer and so less happy than non-religious countries.

But nothing in life is ever that straightforward. There’s a new study out on the effects of participating communal religious activities in adolescents in the USA (Press Release, full paper). The investigators, Richard Petts and Anne Joliff from Ohio State University, controlled for a number of demographic factors, like sex, socioeconomic status, same-sex attraction, grade in school, residential mobility, and self-esteem. What they found was that, as expected, white and black teens who participated in religion were happier on average than then their non-churchgoing colleagues. But for Asians religious participation had the opposite effect, leading to more depression. And for Latinos there was also a tendency for more depression, although the effect was smaller.

14% of whites and and 13% of Asians reported having no religious affiliation, and this group tended to be happier than other whites and Asians. The 9% of blacks and Latinos who had no religion were less happy than their peers.

Setting all other factors aside, the results suggest that participating in religion at high levels may be detrimental to some teens because of the tensions they face in balancing the conflicting ideals and customs of their religion with those of mainstream culture, said Richard Petts, co-author of the study, who did the work as a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University. (Press Release)

Well maybe. Or maybe they get exposed to particularly duff religions. Or maybe the causality is the reverse of what Petts assumes. Maybe depression tends to steer Whites and Blacks away from going to religious services, but has the opposite effect on Asian-Americans and Latinos!

The PsychCentral article does some great analysis of the paper if you read down the page. Bottom line is this: religion makes you happier if you fit in. People who don’t fit in get excluded and made unhappy. Maybe atheist Asians are more likely to know other atheist Asians, so don’t get so excluded.

Browse Our Archives