Secularity, Religiosity, and Health: Physical and Mental Health Differences between Atheists, Agnostics, and Nonaffiliated Theists Compared to Religiously Affiliated Individuals

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Extensive literature in the social and medical sciences link religiosity to positive health outcomes. Conversely it is often assumed that secularity carries negative consequences for health; however, recent research outlining different types of secular individuals complicates this assumption. Using a national sample of American adults, we compare physical and mental health outcomes for atheists, agnostics, religiously nonaffiliated theists, and theistic members of organized religious traditions. Results indicate better physical health outcomes for atheists compared to other secular individuals and members of some religious traditions. Atheists also reported significantly lower levels of psychiatric symptoms (anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion) compared to both other seculars and members of most religious traditions. In contrast, physical and mental health were significantly worse for nonaffiliated theists compared to other seculars and religious affiliates on most outcomes. These findings highlight the necessity of distinguishing among different types of secular individuals in future research on health.