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Thoughts on the Afterlife Among U.S. Adults 50+

This AARP survey was conducted to better understand the thoughts and beliefs of midlife and older Americans regarding life after death, heaven and hell, religion and spirituality, spirits and ghosts, and other afterlife issues – and to make their views known to their age 50+ contemporaries.

To varying degrees, those surveyed say they believe in...

  • God (94%)
  • life after death (73%)
  • the existence of spirits or ghosts (53%)
  • heaven (86%) and hell (70%)

While 66 percent say their confidence in life after death has increased as they've gotten older, 20 percent report being frightened when considering what happens to them when they die. In examining the possible influences of afterlife beliefs and demographic variables, three factors emerge as most strongly related to fear of death:

  • being somewhat religious (compared to “very religious” and “not at all religious”)
  • believing that death is the end
  • belief in the existence of hell

When gender, employment, age, education and marital status are taken into account, income emerges as the only demographic factor significantly related to fear of death and as a strong predictor of being afraid to think about it. One possible explanation is that, for those whose financial status is less secure, thinking of death may be a stressful reminder of the uncertainties in their lives and the potential strain their deaths would place on family members.

The national random telephone survey of 1,011 age 50+ Americans was conducted for AARP and AARP The Magazine by International Communications Research (ICR) from June 29th to July 10th, 2006. Further information about the survey may be obtained by contacting its co-author, Jean Koppen, at 202-434-6311. (16 pages)