Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



A growing body of research has addressed the relationship between community-level religious environments and important aspects of well-being, such as mortality, crime, and social mobility. This research argues that the prevalence of specific religious traditions shapes these important outcomes through a variety of mechanisms. While there is no shortage of mechanisms proposed by authors - such as local attitudes towards public institutions, gender norms, and social networks - these mechanisms remain themselves untested. A notable critique of this literature suggests that without evidence supporting the existence of these mechanisms as described, scholars involved in this research run the risk of committing an ecological fallacy. In this dissertation, I test a variety of proposed mediators of the effects of religious environments on three different aspects of well-being. Using extensive county-level datasets, I examine the roles of institutional investment and access, local health behaviors, and the teen birth rate in explaining observed effects of religious traditions. Results of the study analyses produce evidence which supports and complicates previous theorization in this area of study. There do in fact appear to be mechanisms through which the religious environment influences well-being, but these mechanisms do not uniformly or completely explain the effects of religious traditions. Findings from this dissertation highlight the importance of the cultural environment in shaping U.S. population health and well-being and suggest future directions for research in this area.



Committee Chair

Blanchard, Troy