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Religious Involvement In The Later Years Of Life

According to the prevailing view, people are thought to become more deeply involved in religion as they grow older. With reference to the augmentation of people’s faith and religious practices as they get older, psychologists had seen the need to add the topic of “religion” to their studies on senescent period. For the reason that the effect of religion is in its peak in the adulthood period, experts concentrated their energy more on studies on the complex mechanisms that affect religiousness. Within this scope, various studies on senescence and religion have been conducted in recent years.

Since death is nearer to the elderly people than it is to other groups of age, it is assumed that it is easier for efficient circumstances to grow for people who are in this period of their lives to have a spiritual life. Although these opinions have said to be valid, it is appropriate for us to say that they are none but sentimental estimations if they are not put to any empirical study.

The experiences that an individual goes through can have a great impact on his approach to the religion and also his pursuit of meaning in life, than his chronological age. In this respect, studies that are dealing with the age and religiousness focus more on life events than it does on chronological age. The decrepitude in the senescent period can provide several opportunities during the individual’s pursuit of meaning; however, it might be incorrect to say that getting along provides motivation for the pursuit of meaning.

A lot of research on religious involvement in the later years of life seems to focus on cross-sectional studies. These kinds of researches compare the religiosity of old people that live in a certain period of time with young people that live in the same time with them.

Cross-sectional research is based on the idea that the beliefs and the practices of today’s young generation is exactly equal to the beliefs and the practices of today’s old generation in their adolescence. Therefore, according to the findings of cross-sectional studies, it is not possible for us to identify whether people become more religious in their belief and practice or not.
The first empirical study that wanted to explain the relationship between age and spiritual life was done by Henry Starbuck in the year 1911. He investigated people over the age of 40 and the result he got was “Religion becomes more important in individuals life as they get older.” The content and the size of the sample of Henry Starbuck’s study do not really support the findings of his research. However it is still considered very important since it is the very first research that was done in this field.

To identify the differences in belief between generations, besides just looking at the impacts of getting old, we should also look at the effects of religion on individuals in the past decades. The differences between generations regarding the belief might be because of some social and historical situations. The personality of a child or a teenager might have been molded by societal circumstances. It is not possible for us to know the social and historical situations therefore the findings of cross-sectional researches can be misleading.
In a longitudinal study individuals that join the research get tested over long periods of time for researchers to observe the changes in their beliefs and practices. This kind of research gives a more accurate result whether people get more religious or not.

The studies that were done using the longitudinal research method reveal the reality that there is not a big difference in religious belief and manner of people as they grow older, while the cross-sectional researches claim the opposite. The reason why there are various opinions on this topic is because researchers prefer to use different types of research methods which lead them to different results.

Blazer and Palmore investigated the religious belief and practice of 272 individuals every 2-3 years for 18 years process. They found out that the religiosity of 272 people is stable and there is not an important amount of decrease or increase. People that were religious or irreligious (non-religious) in their youth practice the same belief as they grow older. This determination conflicts with the theory “people become more religious in their adulthood or senescence”.

To conclude, majority of the cross-sectional researches claim that, religiosity increases as individuals grow older. Yet the findings of longitudinal researches don’t verify these results completely. However, to get a more accurate result there is the need of more longitudinal researches to be done.


– Levin, J. S. (2004). Prayer, love, and transcendence: An epidemiologic perspective. In K. W. Schaie, N. Krause, & A. Booth (Eds.), Religious influences on health and well-being in the elderly (pp. 69–95). New York, NY: Springer.

– Seifert, L.S. “Toward a Psychology of Religion, Spirituality, Meaning Search, and Aging: Past Research and a Practical Application”, Journal of Adult Development, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 2002, p. 63.

– Payne, Barbara (Pittard) “Research and Theoretical Approaches to Spirituality and Aging”, Generations, Vol. 14, Issue 4, Fall 1990, pp. 11-15.

– Maves, Paul B. “Religious Development in Adulthood”, Research on Religious Development: A Comprehensive Handbook (ed.) Merton P. Strommen, Hawthorn Books Inc., New York, 1971, p. 788.)

– Shadish, William R.; Cook, Thomas D.; Campbell, Donald T. (2002). Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 267.)

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