A new Pew Research Center study of the ways religion influences the daily lives of Americans finds that people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.
For example, nearly half of highly religious Americans – defined as those who say they pray every day and attend religious services each week – gather with extended family at least once or twice a month.1 By comparison, just three-in-ten Americans who are less religious gather as frequently with their extended families. Roughly two-thirds of highly religious adults (65%) say they have donated money, time or goods to help the poor in the past week, compared with 41% who are less religious. And 40% of highly religious U.S. adults describe themselves as “very happy,” compared with 29% of those who are less religious.
Of course, survey data like these cannot prove that believing certain actions are obligatory for Christians actually causes Christians to behave in particular ways. The causal arrow could point in the other direction: It may be easier for those who regularly engage in particular behaviors to cite those behaviors as essential to their faith. Conversely, it may be harder for those who do not regularly engage in particular activities (such as helping the poor) to describe those activities as essential to their faith. Nevertheless, the survey data suggest that Christians are more likely to live healthy lives, work on behalf of the poor and behave in environmentally conscious ways if they consider these things essential to what it means to be a Christian.
Adults who are highly religious are more likely than those who are less religious to say they did volunteer work in the last seven days (45% vs. 28%). Follow-up questions suggest this difference is driven primarily by volunteering through houses of worship.12 Highly religious Americans are more than five times as likely as those who are less religious to say they recently volunteered “mainly through a church or other religious organization” (23% vs. 4%). Similar shares of highly religious and less religious adults say they volunteered through an institution other than a church or house of worship.
About two-thirds of highly religious adults say they donated time, money or goods to help the poor in the past week (65%). Fewer of those who are not highly religious say the same (41%). Christians and Jews are more likely than religious “nones” to say they donated money, goods or time to help the poor and needy in the given time frame. These differences between Christians and Jews on the one hand and religious “nones” on the other persist even after taking into account other potential explanatory variables, such as income, age and education.