Religion and Depression in Adolescence

55 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2016

See all articles by Jane Cooley

Jane Cooley

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Sriya Iyer

University of Cambridge

Anwen Zhang

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)


The probability of being depressed increases dramatically during adolescence and is linked to a range of adverse outcomes. Many studies show a correlation between religiosity and mental health, yet the question remains whether the link is causal. The key issue is selection into religiosity. We exploit plausibly random variation in adolescents' peers to shift religiosity independently of other individual-level unobservables that might affect depression. Using a nationally representative sample of adolescents in the US, we find robust effects of religiosity on depression, that are particularly strong for the most depressed. These effects are not a result of social context. Instead, we find that religiosity buffers against stressors, possibly through improved social and psychological resources. This has implications especially for effective mental health policy.

Keywords: mental health, religiosity, depression, Ad Health

JEL Classification: I10, Z12

Suggested Citation

Cooley, Jane and Iyer, Sriya and Zhang, Anwen, Religion and Depression in Adolescence. IZA Discussion Paper No. 9652, Available at SSRN:

Jane Cooley (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

Sriya Iyer

University of Cambridge ( email )

Austin Robinson Building
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge, CB3 9DD
United Kingdom

Anwen Zhang

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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