(CBS) Researchers have come up with a surprising explanation for the long decline in church attendance in the U.S. and other developed countries: We're living longer, so we're less worried about what happens after death.
"Many religions and societies link to some degree the cumulative amount of religious effort to benefits in the afterlife," Dr. Elissaios Papyrakis of the University of East Anglia in England, said in a written statement describing a new study he co-authored. "We show that higher life expectancy discounts expected benefits in the afterlife and is therefore likely to lead to postponement of religiosity, without necessarily jeopardizing benefits in the afterlife."
In other words, if you're more confident that you won't be meeting your maker anytime soon, you're less likely to attend worship services.
The study, published online in the International Journal of Social Economics, is fraught with irony.
Previous research showed that regular churchgoers live longer than people who seldom or never attend worship services. A 1999 study published in the journal "Demography," for example, showed that people who go to church at least once a week live about seven years longer than people who never attend, according to Science Daily.
Frequent churchgoers may be less likely to smoke and or to engage in heavy drinking - and more likely to have strong emotional and practical support when health challenges arise, the researchers behind that study said. But these factors didn't seem to fully explain the link between religiosity and longevity observed in the study.
That raises the question: Is God responsible for letting people live into old age? If so, is she putting herself out of business?