High-cost religion, religious switching, and health

Document Type


Publication Date





Previous research has devoted significant attention to understanding the link between health and personal religious beliefs and practices, typically finding that more religious people tend to have better health. However, almost no attention has been given to how switching religious groups or leaving religion altogether is related to self-reported health. Due to selection and causation mechanisms, switching from high-cost groups that are theologically and culturally exclusive could be associated with poor health more than switching from other religious groups. Using data from the 1972 through 2006 General Social Surveys, we examine the relationship between health and religious switching as moderated by the religious tradition of origin. We find that people who are raised and stay in high-cost sectarian groups, such as the Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses, have better self-reported health than those raised and staying in other religious traditions. However, people who leave such groups are more likely to report worse health than those who leave other groups.