London, Jan 30 : People of religious faith may have experienced lower levels of unhappiness and stress than others during the Covid-19 pandemic induced lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, claims new research.
Economists at the University of Cambridge, UK, argue that religion may act as a bulwark against increased distress and reduced wellbeing during times of crisis, such as a global public health emergency.
They found that while lockdowns were associated with a universal uptick in unhappiness, the average increase in feeling miserable was 29 per cent lower for people who described themselves as belonging to a religion.
"Selection biases make the wellbeing effects of religion difficult to study," said Prof Shaun Larcom from Cambridge’s Department of Land Economy.
"People may become religious due to family backgrounds, innate traits, or to cope with new or existing struggles.
"However, the Covid-19 pandemic was an extraordinary event affecting everyone at around the same time, so we could gauge the impact of a negative shock to wellbeing right across society. This provided a unique opportunity to measure whether religion was important for how some people deal with a crisis."
The team analysed survey data collected from 3,884 people in the UK during the first two national lockdowns, and compared it to three waves of data prior to the pandemic.
The researchers also analysed the data by "religiosity": the extent of an individual’s commitment to religious beliefs, and how central it is to their life.
Those for whom religion makes "some or a great difference" in their lives experienced around half the increase in unhappiness seen in those for whom religion makes little or no difference. "The study suggests that it is not just being religious, but the intensity of religiosity that is important when coping with a crisis," said Larcom.
The research is published as a working paper by Cambridge's Faculty of Economics. The team also found the probability of religious people having an increase in depression was around 20 per cent lower than non-religious people.
There was little overall difference between Christians, Muslims and Hindus -- followers of the three biggest religions in the UK.
However, the team did find that wellbeing among some religious groups appeared to suffer more than others when places of worship were closed during the first lockdown.
"The denial of weekly communal attendance appears to have been particularly affecting Catholics and Muslims," said Larcom. (IANS)