Do differences in religious affiliation explain high levels of excess mortality in the UK?

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Abstract

Background

High levels of mortality not explained by differences in socioeconomic status (SES) have been observed for Scotland and its largest city, Glasgow, compared with elsewhere in the UK. Previous cross-sectional research highlighted potentially relevant differences in social capital, including religious social capital (the benefits of social participation in organised religion). The aim of this study was to use longitudinal data to assess whether religious affiliation (as measured in UK censuses) attenuated the high levels of Scottish excess mortality.

Methods

The study used the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) and the ONS Longitudinal Study of England and Wales. Risk of all-cause mortality (2001–2010) was compared between residents aged 35 and 74 years of Scotland and England and Wales, and between Glasgow and Liverpool/Manchester, using Poisson regression. Models adjusted for age, gender, SES and religious affiliation. Similar country-based analyses were undertaken for suicide.

Results

After adjustment for age, gender and SES, all-cause mortality was 9% higher in Scotland than in England and Wales, and 27% higher in Glasgow than in Liverpool or Manchester. Religious affiliation was notably lower across Scotland; but, its inclusion in the models did not attenuate the level of Scottish excess all-cause mortality, and only marginally lowered the differences in risk of suicide.

Conclusions

Differences in religious affiliation do not explain the higher mortality rates in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK. However, it is possible that other aspects of religion such as religiosity or religious participation which were not assessed here may still be important.

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