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Do differences in religious affiliation explain high levels of excess mortality in the UK?
  1. Kevin Ralston1,
  2. David Walsh2,
  3. Zhiqiang Feng3,
  4. Chris Dibben4,
  5. Gerry McCartney5,
  6. Dermot O'Reilly6
  1. 1National Centre for Research Methods, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Glasgow Centre for Population Health, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  4. 4University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  5. 5NHS Health Scotland, Glasgow, UK
  6. 6School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Walsh, Glasgow Centre for Population Health, Olympia Building, 2-16 Orr Street, Bridgeton Cross, Glasgow G40 2QH, UK; david.walsh.2{at}


Background High levels of mortality not explained by differences in socioeconomic status (SES) have been observed for Scotland and its largest city, Glasgow, compared with elsewhere in the UK. Previous cross-sectional research highlighted potentially relevant differences in social capital, including religious social capital (the benefits of social participation in organised religion). The aim of this study was to use longitudinal data to assess whether religious affiliation (as measured in UK censuses) attenuated the high levels of Scottish excess mortality.

Methods The study used the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) and the ONS Longitudinal Study of England and Wales. Risk of all-cause mortality (2001–2010) was compared between residents aged 35 and 74 years of Scotland and England and Wales, and between Glasgow and Liverpool/Manchester, using Poisson regression. Models adjusted for age, gender, SES and religious affiliation. Similar country-based analyses were undertaken for suicide.

Results After adjustment for age, gender and SES, all-cause mortality was 9% higher in Scotland than in England and Wales, and 27% higher in Glasgow than in Liverpool or Manchester. Religious affiliation was notably lower across Scotland; but, its inclusion in the models did not attenuate the level of Scottish excess all-cause mortality, and only marginally lowered the differences in risk of suicide.

Conclusions Differences in religious affiliation do not explain the higher mortality rates in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK. However, it is possible that other aspects of religion such as religiosity or religious participation which were not assessed here may still be important.


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  • Contributors DW originally conceived the study. The research questions and analysis plan were agreed by all authors. KR and ZF undertook analyses with support from CD and DW. DW drafted the manuscript. All authors provided substantial critical input to improve the manuscript and all authors approved the final draft.

  • Funding The analysis was funded by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.