Previous research has frequently found a positive relation between religiosity compared to non-religiosity and psychological well-being. Recent studies have demonstrated differences between types of non-religious individuals and the relevance of a fit between individual (non-)religiosity and characteristics of the country a person is living in. This study combined the previous (partially) competing lines of research for the first time and examined the connection between self-identifying as specifically atheist, non-religious without further distinction, weakly religious, or highly religious and life satisfaction. World Values Survey data of 24 countries worldwide that vary in their social norms of religiosity and societal levels of development were used for a quantitative intercultural comparison (N = 33,879). In contrast to most previous research, a multilevel regression analysis showed no differences between highly religious, indistinct non-religious, and atheist individuals’ level of life satisfaction when the fit between individual (non-)religiosity and country characteristics was included. Weakly religious individuals though were significantly less satisfied with life than highly religious individuals. Thus, our results indicate that only in religious societies, identifying as non-religious/atheist is related to lower life satisfaction. When controlling for the context, a curvilinear relation between (non-)religiosity and life satisfaction emerged. Additionally, atheists differed in their sensitivity towards the social norm of religiosity from indistinct non-religious individuals—their well-being varied dependent on living in a country with many other secular individuals or not. These results demonstrate differences between subgroups of (non-)religious individuals and they call into question a general benefit of religiosity for subjective well-being independent of societal context.
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At the suggestion of a reviewer, we also controlled for differences between Western and Asian countries concerning their level of life satisfaction. There was no significant difference and including this variable into our multilevel regression analyses did yield equivalent results concerning the main variables (results of this check are available on request).
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We gratefully acknowledge that Katharina Pöhls received a scholarship from the German Research Foundation (DFG) (Grant No. 1461). This research did not receive any additional grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
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Pöhls, K., Schlösser, T. & Fetchenhauer, D. Non-Religious Identities and Life Satisfaction: Questioning the Universality of a Linear Link between Religiosity and Well-Being. J Happiness Stud 21, 2327–2353 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00175-x
- Belief certainty
- Person-culture fit
- Life satisfaction