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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
Shoemaker, B M (2012). The Elderly Rely on Faith While the Young Save Themselves. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 15. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2023 .

The Elderly Rely on Faith While the Young Save Themselves
Bryce Shoemaker
Department of Psychology Missouri Western State University

Sponsored by: RUSSELL PHILLIPS (rphillips2@gmail.com)

Previous studies do not examine specific forms of religious coping and their relationship to age. The present study examines the relationship between age and the particular coping method of spiritual connection. Four hundred thirty-five students attending two universities were surveyed regarding demographic variables, measures of religiosity, and the RCOPE. There was a small statistically significant relationship between age and spiritual connection. Age was not a relevant predictor for spiritual connection in a forward regression, while frequency of prayer and spirituality was. It is suggested that a sample with greater diversity in age might better predict religious coping methods.

Keywords: age, religion, spirituality, religious coping, college students

The Elderly Rely on Faith While the Young Save Themselves

When people experience stressful events, many turn to religion to cope because religion, or some sort of belief system, is a part of everyone’s orienting system (Paragament et al. 2000).  An orienting system is how we approach our life and it includes our personality, values, morals, behavior, and beliefs.  Age is also an element of the orienting system, and may impact how one copes with stress.  A few studies have examined how age relates to general forms of religious coping. Lowis et. al. (2009) did a study on coping with retirement and age.  They found a small but significant inverse relationship between use of religious coping and age(r = -.194). Yet Hanneke et al. (2010) did not find that age was a significant predictor of turning to religion to cope with the stress of cancer. Therefore, the results appear to be inconsistent.

Further, these studies do not examine specific forms of religious coping and their relationship to age. We would like to examine the relationship between age and spiritual connection. Spiritual connection is experiencing a sense of connectedness with forces that transcend the individual (Paragment et al. 2000).  As an individual ages, we suspect their relationship with a higher power grows. This may be due to the fact a person accumulates more spiritual experiences as they age, they turn to a higher power to deal with the thought of dying, and they turn to God to cope with losing loved ones. Thus, we expect there to be a positive correlation between age and spiritual connection.



There were a total of 435 college students attending two universities on the Midwest and West-Coast. The sample was mostly female (71.2%), with a mean age of 22.13 years (SD 7.02). In terms of ethnicity, 71% of the sample was European-American, 12.6% Hispanic-American, 7.6% Asian-American, and 4.6% were African-American. Eighty percent were never married, and 16% were married/cohabiting. Pertaining to household income, 62.5% of the participants indicated they made below $50,000 dollars. When asked if they believe in God, 92.6% said yes. Eighty percent identified as Christian (Catholic or Protestant), with 38.1% attending church a few times a year, and 19.3% never attending. Twenty percent prayed or meditated daily, 15% prayed a few times a week, and 16.6% a few times a year. Religiosity was average, with 16% not  religious at all, 30.5% were slightly religious, 41.4% moderately religious, and 12.3% believed themselves to be very religious.

 Measures and Procedures

            The survey included demographic questions for age, gender, ethnicity, household income, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and marital status. The present study utilized a modified version of the RCOPE, including the three highest loading items in the Pargament et al. (2000) factor analysis. This included 75 items rated on a scale from 1-4 (1=not at all; 4=great deal).  

Students in psychology courses were asked to partake in an online study for extra credit.  Interested students provided their email address to the professor, who gave the information to the researchers. Those who signed up for the study were emailed a link and a password for the survey. The survey contained a number of validated measures besides those described in the current study, including scales assessing daily spiritual experiences, mystical experiences, Christian orthodoxy, stress, general outcomes from stress, anxiety, hostility, and depression. Participants were emailed the same survey two months later as a follow up study.


There was a small but statistically significant relationship between age and spiritual connection (r=.18, p < .001). (See Figure 1.) We next tested whether age predicted spiritual connection better than demographic variables (gender, race, income), general religious variables (self-perceived religiosity, self-perceived spirituality, frequency of prayer, and frequency of church attendance), and other variables that our research program was interested in (fundamentalism, faith development.)

*Insert Figure 1 about here*

Based on the results of the regression, age was not found to be a significant predictor of spiritual connection (see Table 1). The main predictor of spiritual connection was frequency of prayer. Spirituality was the second best predictor, and overall, three of the four signficant predictors were religious variables.

*Insert Table 1 about here*


Although age had a small, significant relationship with spiritual connection, it did not significantly predict this form of spiritual coping in a regression including the predictors of demographic variables, general religious variables, fundamentalism, and faith development. The main predictor of spiritual connection was prayer, and spirituality was the second best predictor. These variables may be strong predictors of spiritual connection because most people attempt to gain connection to a higher power through prayer and those who are more spiritual would likely look to their strong relationship with God to cope during times of stress.

Some limitations of the study include that it is not representative of the general population, because only college students of mostly traditional age were assessed. Because the age group involved is a restricted range, it limits the size of our correlation statistic.

Further research could examine a wider range of ages. A longitudinal or cross-sectional study could provide more insight into how spiritual connection and other religious coping styles are affected by age. Therapists could use this research to examine how their patients attempt to spiritually connect with a higher power, possibly turning to prayer as one resource. Therapists could also focus on what other religious coping styles their patients use to cope with stress and find the right methods to best assist such individuals.



Lowis, M., Edwards, A., & Burton, M. (2009). Coping with retirement: Well-being, health, and religion. The Journal of Psychology, 143(4), 427– 448.

Pargament, K., Koenig, H., & Perez, L. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the rcope. Journal of      Clinical Psychology, 56(4), 519-543.

Van Laarhoven, H. M., Schilderman, J., Vissers, K. C., Verhagen, C. M., & Prins, J. (2010). Images of God in relation to coping strategies of palliative cancer patients. Journal Of Pain And Symptom Management, 40(4), 495-501.




Table 1

Hierarchical Regression Analysis: Prediction of Spiritual Connection


Predictors                                Spiritual Connection

                                                R2                  β


Prayer                                    .271**             .310**

Spirituality                              .033**             .219**

Race                                      .016*              -.121*

Fundamentalism                      .012*               .129*





Church Attendances  

Faith Development

Total R2                                  .331**                        

n                                             378                            


Note: Some variables do not have ∆R2 or β because in forward selection regression, predictors that do not significantly contribute to predicted variance are not included in the model. 

* p < .01 ** p < .001


Figure 1: Correlation between Spiritual Connection & Age

Submitted 05/03/2012
Accepted 05/03/2012

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