• religious participation;
  • volunteering;
  • mortality;
  • meta-analysis;
  • meta-regression;
  • church attendance

Scholars have long argued that the reduced mortality risk associated with frequent participation in religious services derives from two sources: social participation and religious belief efficacy. In contrast, the reduced mortality risk associated with participation in nonreligious groups is thought to derive solely from the social participation component. This study tests the religious efficacy hypothesis by comparing the effects of religious participation with nonreligious participation using meta-analyses of 312 mortality risk estimates from 74 publications (providing data on more than 300,000 persons). We found no significant difference between the mean hazard ratio (HR) for low religious participation (HR, 1.32; 95% CI, 1.24–1.41) and the mean HR for low nonreligious participation (HR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.17–1.33). These findings suggest that the positive health effects of religious participation may largely be attributed to the social participation component, rather than to the religious component of the act.