At its vernacular core, Pascal's Wager exhorts one to go through the religious motions and try to believe for a rational reason--the worst that happens to you after you die if you're wrong is the best that happens to the non-believer who is right. Of course, a similar argument could be made in favor of any behavior, no matter how seemingly absurd (and there is no shortage of people who'd say sitting idly in pews for an hour or two a week with the understanding that it'll bring eternal redemption is absurd), if the potential reward is eternal euphoria. I've heard tongue-in-cheek criticisms that there are drawbacks to the churchgoing life, like having less fun on Saturday nights.
Well, maybe the wager needs an update! Drop the eschatological stuff and just focus on the secular life, because those who attend religious services are happier than those who don't (of course correlation does not necessarily equal causation, etc etc). The GSS poses a simple question on self-perceptions of happiness levels. It's measured on a three point scale, inverted here so that higher scores indicate greater happiness. The following table shows average (mean) scores for men and women, by frequency of church attendance*, between the ages of 18-29 at the time of their participation in the survey. For contemporary relevance, only responses from 2000 onward are included (n = 2,610):
One standard deviation is .62. The difference in happiness levels among women who never attend and those who attend regularly is twice as large as it is among comparable groups of men. Women are not only more religious than men are, this also suggests that among those who are seriously committed, women benefit more from religious activities and experiences than men do.
Church and marriage are both positively associated with happiness. So what does the comparison between unmarried, non-attenders and married, churchgoers look like?
|Unmarried, no church||Married, weekly+|
The gap is more than two-thirds of a standard deviation wide for both sexes. Ladies, don't devote yourselves to yourselves, devote yourselves to your man and to your God. The feminists can suck it--they don't want you to be happy, anyway.
GSS variables used: MARITAL(1)(2-5), HAPPY, SEX, AGE(18-29), YEAR(2000-2010), ATTEND(0)(1-3)(4-6)(7-8)
* My amateur grasp of html programming is precluding the use of the carrot sign to indicate "less than", so an acronym has to suffice.