Race differences in the association of spiritual experiences and life satisfaction in older age

Aging Ment Health. 2013;17(7):888-95. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2013.793285. Epub 2013 Apr 29.


Objectives: The primary objective of this study was to examine an African American 'faith advantage' in life satisfaction. Specifically, we sought to test the hypothesis that the positive relationship between spiritual experiences and life satisfaction is stronger among older African Americans than among older Whites.

Method: The data came from 6864 community-dwelling persons aged 65+ (66% African American) who participated in the Chicago Health and Aging Project. Life satisfaction was measured using a five-item composite and we used a five-item version of the Daily Spiritual Experiences scale.

Results: In a regression model adjusting for age, sex, marital status, education, income and worship attendance, we found that African American race was associated with lower life satisfaction. We also found a positive association between spiritual experiences and life satisfaction. In an additional model, a significant race by spiritual experiences interaction term indicates that spiritual experiences are more positively associated with life satisfaction among African Americans.

Conclusion: The data suggest that at higher levels of spiritual experiences, racial differences in life satisfaction are virtually non-existent. However, at lower levels of spiritual experiences, older African Americans show modestly lower levels of life satisfaction than do older Whites. This pattern suggests that spiritual experiences are a positive resource - distinct from worship attendance - that enable older African Americans to overcome decrements in life satisfaction and, in fact, that lower spiritual experiences may be especially harmful for older African American's life satisfaction.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / ethnology*
  • Aging / psychology
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Chicago
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Spirituality*
  • White People / psychology*