Accepted Paper:

Mental and physical health and religious involvement in rural Malawi  


Jacob Kendall (Taylor University)

Paper short abstract:

Because formal systems of public health and welfare are scarce, religion is likely to have important implications for health in the rural African context. Yet research on this topic is negligible. The purpose of this paper is to examine religion and health in rural Malawi.

Paper long abstract:

While research elsewhere has found important links between religion and health, especially in industrialized settings, greater understanding of this issue in sub-Saharan Africa is needed. In a setting largely lacking formal systems of social support, religion is likely to be an important source of support in the rural African context. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between religion and health for women and men in rural Malawi, using data from the 2008 and 2010 waves of the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health. The measures of health two years after baseline are the mental and physical health scores from the Short Form-12. The measures of religion are affiliation, attendance to church or mosque, participation in religious activities, and congregational support. After controlling for baseline health, results show that: (1) the relationship between religion and health differs between younger (15-44 years) and older (45+ years) adults (for both women and men); (2) among younger adults, Muslims are relatively less healthy, whereas Muslims are healthier in older age; (3) religious activities have a stronger relationship with health than do attendance or congregational support, especially for women; and (4) the measure for religious activities has a relationship with health only for two or more activities. These findings suggest that religion outside of weekly attendance to religious services is tied to future health in rural Malawi, especially for older women.

Panel P185
In pursuit of "wellness"