This paper begins by presenting a rationale for studying the associations between religion and well-being among older persons. It then reviews research findings on religion’s effects upon the well-being of older adults and addresses implications of these findings for interventions aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of aging persons. The paper concludes by suggesting that improvements in life quality for elders can have positive effects upon the well-being of the entire society by promoting understanding and acceptance of the meanings and lessons of aging.
Empirical evidence cited in this paper and in others in this issue presents no simple, definitive relationship between religion and well-being. The trend appears to be in the direction of beneficial effects of aspects of religiosity upon aspects of late-life well-being, although it is possible that religion also negatively affects well-being in later life. Findings of the salutary effects of religion in later life have numerous implications for social service agencies, long-term care facilities, educational institutions, health care services, and congregations. Social service agencies need to recognize that many older persons turn to their churches and synagogues first when challenged by health problems, economic difficulties, and a loss of social support (in widowhood, for example).
With greater numbers of persons reaching old age, the images of aging and well-being offered by religion will become increasingly important if they influence the social construction of late life as a time of possibilities for individual growth, service to others, and spiritual fulfillment. In this way, religion may support new understandings of well-being for aging individuals and an aging society.