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A new Pew Research Center study of the ways religion influences the daily lives of Americans finds that people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.
For example, 47% of highly religious Americans – defined as those who say they pray every day and attend religious services each week – gather with extended family at least once or twice a month. By comparison, just 30% of Americans who are less religious gather as frequently with their extended families. Roughly two-thirds of highly religious adults (65%) say they have donated money, time or goods to help the poor in the past week, compared with 41% who are less religious. And 40% of highly religious U.S. adults describe themselves as “very happy,” compared with 29% of those who are less religious.
However, in several other areas of day-to-day life – including interpersonal interactions, attention to health and fitness, and social and environmental consciousness – Pew Research Center surveys find that people who pray every day and regularly attend religious services appear to be very similar to those who are not as religious.
For instance, highly religious people are about as likely as other Americans to say they lost their temper recently, and they are only marginally less likely to say they told a white lie in the past week. When it comes to diet and exercise, highly religious Americans are no less likely to have overeaten in the past week, and they are no more likely to say they exercise regularly. Highly religious people also are no more likely than other Americans to recycle. And when making decisions about what goods and services to buy, highly religious Americans are no more inclined to consider the manufacturers’ environmental records or whether companies pay employees a fair wage.
Additional key findings in the report include:
Three-quarters of adults – including 96% of members of historically black Protestant churches and 93% of evangelical Protestants – say they thanked God for something in the past week. And two-thirds, including 91% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition and 87% of evangelicals, say they asked God for help during the past week. One-third of religiously unaffiliated Americans say they thanked God for something in the past week, and one-in-four have asked God for help in the past week.
Nearly half of Americans (46%) say they talk with their immediate families about religion at least once or twice a month. About a quarter (27%) say they talk about religion at least once a month with their extended families, and 33% say they discuss religion as often with people outside their families. Having regular conversations about religion is most common among evangelicals and people who belong to churches in the historically black Protestant tradition. By contrast, relatively few religious “nones” say they discuss religion with any regularity.
One-third of American adults (33%) say they volunteered in the past week. This includes 10% who say they volunteered mainly through a church or religious organization and 22% who say their volunteering was not done through a religious organization.
Three-in-ten adults say they meditated in the past week to help cope with stress. Regularly using meditation to cope with stress is more common among highly religious people than among those who are less religious (42% vs. 26%).
Nine-in-ten adults say the quality of a product is a “major factor” they take into account when making purchasing decisions, and three-quarters focus on the price. Far fewer – only about one-quarter of adults – say a company’s environmental responsibility (26%) or whether it pays employees a fair wage (26%) are major factors in their purchasing decisions. Highly religious adults are no more or less likely than those who are less religious to say they consider a company’s environmental record and fair wage practices in making purchasing decisions.
Three-quarters of Catholics say they look to their own conscience “a great deal” for guidance on difficult moral questions. Far fewer Catholics say they look a great deal to the Catholic Church’s teachings (21%), the Bible (15%) or the pope (11%) for guidance on difficult moral questions.
When asked to describe, in their own words, what being a “moral person” means to them, 23% of religious “nones” cite the golden rule or being kind to others, 15% mention being a good person and 12% mention being tolerant and respectful of others.
These are among the latest findings of Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study. Two previous reports on the Landscape Study, based on a 2014 telephone survey of more than 35,000 adults, examined the changing religious composition of the U.S. public and described the religious beliefs, practices and experiences of Americans. This new report also draws on the national telephone survey but is based primarily on a supplemental survey among 3,278 participants in the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, a nationally representative group of randomly selected U.S. adults surveyed online and by mail. The supplemental survey was designed to go beyond traditional measures of religious behavior – such as worship service attendance, prayer and belief in God – to examine the ways people exhibit (or do not exhibit) their religious beliefs, values and connections in their day-to-day lives.