An interesting new article in the Journal of Religion and Health discusses the findings of a small study that examined the effects of gender and cardiac health on older patients’ spiritual and religious involvement.
Many studies have already shown the positive effects of spirituality and faith on people coping with various health problems (including heart-related ones), just following a traumatic event, and before and after surgery. In addition, previous studies have also identified gender differences in health behavior as well as stronger religious practice among women than men.
This study explored several new lines of inquiry. For one, it investigated the impact of health problems on patients’ spirituality and faith, as opposed to the inverse, which has already been done. Second, it zeros in on how cardiac health problems in particular affect the spirituality and religiousness of older men versus older women. Finally, this study attempts to glean insights into the gendered ways in which older men and women manage heart disease.
The patient population for this New England-based study consisted of 182 Caucasian seniors (74 men and 106 women) ages 61-89. Of these participants, 93 percent had a religious affiliation, with Christianity being predominant.
The study found that women are more likely than men to turn to traditional religious practice, such as prayer and private devotion, as coping methods, which flies in the face of existing assumptions that men and women would be equally inclined to seek comfort in faith if faced with a chronic illness. In fact, this study observed that older men with heart trouble were inclined to religious doubting and existential questioning and sought information about ways to control their conditions on their own and with the aid of their doctors.
In sum, as women became more fortified in their faith, men became greater skeptics. Interestingly, the men in this study perceived their skepticism as a positive reaction, reinforcing to researchers the likelihood of a gender differential in how male and female patients approach their health.
Thompson, Edward H. Jr. et al.