NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Traumatic Health Shocks and Spiritual Capital

Resul Cesur, Travis Freidman, Joseph J. Sabia

NBER Working Paper No. 24954
Issued in August 2018, Revised in February 2020
NBER Program(s):Health Economics, Labor Studies

While the relationship between adverse health shocks and health care utilization has been studied extensively, next to nothing is known about the effect of health shocks on religiosity, which may serve as an alternative to secular psychological services and interventions. Filling this gap in knowledge is important given that religious-based psychological counseling services have grown substantially in recent decades, and the relative mental health benefits of religion as compared to secular counseling services are not well-known. This study uses the setting of war to study the impact of health trauma on religiosity. Exploiting the administrative procedures by which U.S. Armed Forces senior commanders conditionally randomly assign active-duty servicemen to war deployments as a natural experiment, we find that post-9/11 combat exposure substantially increases the probability that a serviceman subsequently attends religious services and engages in private prayer. Estimated effects are largest for enlisted servicemen, those under age 25, and servicemen wounded in combat. The physical and psychological health effects of war, as well as the presence of military chaplains in combat zones, emerge as partial mechanisms to explain increases in religiosity. We find only weak evidence that combat service differentially affects servicemen’s demand for religious counseling as compared to secular psychological services.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24954

 
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