Listening to Religious Music and Mental Health in Later Life

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Abstract

Purpose of the Study:

Research has linked several aspects of religion—including service attendance, prayer, meditation, religious coping strategies, congregational support systems, and relations with God, among others—with positive mental health outcomes among older U.S. adults. This study examines a neglected dimension of religious life: listening to religious music.

Design and Methods:

Two waves of nationally representative data on older U.S. adults were analyzed (n = 1,024).

Results:

Findings suggest that the frequency of listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in death anxiety and increases in life satisfaction, self-esteem, and a sense of control across the 2 waves of data. In addition, the frequency of listening to gospel music (a specific type of religious music) is associated with a decrease in death anxiety and an increase in a sense of control. These associations are similar for blacks and whites, women and men, and low- and high-socioeconomic status individuals.

Implications:

Religion is an important socioemotional resource that has been linked with desirable mental health outcomes among older U.S. adults. This study shows that listening to religious music may promote psychological well-being in later life. Given that religious music is available to most individuals—even those with health problems or physical limitations that might preclude participation in more formal aspects of religious life—it might be a valuable resource for promoting mental health later in the life course.

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