How do education and religion affect the health and well-being of the very old in China?
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A large body of empirical research has documented strong beneficial effects of educational attainment on a wide range of health outcomes. In addition, there has been growing interest in the links between religion and health, and some studies have suggested that the benefits of religious involvement on health are strongest for persons with low-to-moderate levels of education. To date, however, the bulk of this work has been conducted in the U.S. or other nations in the developed West. Although researchers have called for more comparative and cross-cultural studies on these topics, few if any studies have focused on the interplay of education, religion, and multiple health outcomes in China, particularly among its most elderly citizens. This project aims to address this gap in the research literature, with the following objectives: (1) to examine whether and how education is related to emotional and cognitive well-being, and reflects possible gender differences; (2) to explore whether and how religious participation is associated with various health indicators; and (3) to examine whether religious practice may complement or moderate the association between individual-level SES or community-level SES and health in this distinctive population. To investigate these issues, I use data from the Chinese Healthy Longevity Survey, a nationwide survey of the oldest old adults in China; my analyses involve the 1998 baseline survey, as well as data from the 2000 and 2002 follow-up surveys. Findings suggest that: (1) education impacts emotional and cognitive well-being through different mechanisms; (2) the indirect effects of religion on health are primarily mediated by psychological resources and lifestyle, but not by social resources; (3) females report higher levels of religious participation and get more cognitive benefits from it than males; (4) individual-level SES is negatively associated with religious participation, whereas community-level SES is positively associated with religious participation; and (5) the beneficial effects of religion on psychological wellbeing are more pronounced for residents in poorer areas. The theoretical and policy implications of the findings are discussed and elaborated.