Religious institutions can provide spiritual guidance and hope, a sense of belonging, and material support during periods of hardship. Daniel Hungerman reviews the evidence on the roles that religious institutions play in individuals’ lives and how engagement with those institutions shapes individuals’ economic wellbeing.
First, he describes patterns and trends in religious social service provision, and in religiosity, across places and over time. The United States features prominently in this discussion, although he includes work in other countries as well. Next, he provides an overview of key aspects of the large interdisciplinary body of research that associates religious participation with other outcomes and channels by which religious groups affect outcomes, giving special attention to the empirical challenges facing work of this nature.
Overall, he writes, religious groups are an important and understudied source of social services and wellbeing. Despite the challenges of studying the effects of religion, many rigorous studies on the topic confirm that religion has important causal beneficial effects on wellbeing. Together, these results raise important policy questions concerning how to provide social services to the disadvantaged.