How Religion Can Heighten or Help With Financial Stress

Churchgoers who are strapped for cash may experience a spike in anxiety when the donation plate is passed. However, knowing they have a church family to support them in times of need may help ease their money worries.

A new study by University of Arizona researcher Ashley LeBaron illuminates the ways in which religious involvement can alleviate or exacerbate financial stress.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, draws upon 134 interviews with religious leaders and parents in Ireland and the United Kingdom who consider themselves to be "highly involved" in their religion.

The results suggest that religion's effects on financial stress are not black and white, said LeBaron, a doctoral student who studies family finance in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"There's an effort to view research on religion and family with a more balanced perspective – to acknowledge that in some ways, in some circumstances, religion can harm families, and in some circumstances, it can help families," LeBaron said. "That was a natural perspective to take with this paper because the data clearly showed that when families were talking about religion and how it impacted their finances, sometimes they talked about how religion was really beneficial to their finances and their family, and sometimes it made their financial stress worse."

The data was originally gathered for a different research project, not involving LeBaron, on religion's impact on families. Study participants were not specifically asked about their finances in the interviews. However, financial themes frequently emerged in their responses, which led a colleague at Brigham Young University to share the data with LeBaron for further analysis.

LeBaron and her co-authors, who include that colleague from BYU and two others, identified five ways in which religious involvement may relieve financial stress and four ways in which it may make financial stress worse.

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