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Survey: How 50+ Americans View Afterlife

Most of America's baby boomers and senior citizens believe in an afterlife and an overwhelming majority believe in God, a survey revealed.

A survey was conducted on Americans 50 and older, a population segment expected to increase to about a third of the U.S. population by 2030, to measure how the older Americans envision what comes after death.

The study found that 73 percent of respondents agree strongly or somewhat with the statement "I believe in life after death." Women are more likely to believe in the afterlife (80 percent) than men (64 percent).

Two-thirds of respondents say that their confidence in life after death has increased as they have gotten older (66 percent).

Eighty-six percent believe in heaven while 70 percent believe in hell. In terms of where the 50+ population believes they will end up after death, 88 percent of those who believe in heaven think that they will personally get into heaven. Women are more likely to say they will get into heaven (91 percent) compared to men (85 percent).

Almost all respondents believe in God (94 percent). Those who consider themselves "very" religious almost all believe they would get into heaven (97 percent) while 85 percent of those who consider themselves "somewhat" religious and 75 percent of those who are "not at all" religious think they would get into heaven.

When asked to give a percentage of people they believe will go to heaven, those who believe in heaven said on average 64 percent of people will go.

When asked who they think will enter heaven if there is a heaven, 29 percent of respondents think people who believe in Jesus Christ will get in to heaven; 25 percent think people who are good go to heaven; 10 percent think people who believe in one God gets in; 10 percent think everyone gets in to heaven; and another 10 percent think people who are religious/have faith gets in.

When asked about hell, 31 percent of respondents think people who are bad will go to hell; 17 percent think people who do not believe in Jesus Christ will go; 15 percent think people who do not believe in God will go; and 9 percent think people who have sinned will go.

Only 20 percent say they fear death and what happens to them after they die. Those who say they are only slightly religious and those who believe in hell are more likely than most to be afraid of death. The strongest predictor of fear of death is a belief that once one dies, that's the end.

"Fear of death is most strongly related to uncertainty in one's religious beliefs and the possibility that something negative could happen after death," the report stated.

Other findings showed that respondents with the lowest household incomes are almost twice as likely to be afraid of death and what happens to them after they die (29 percent) as those with higher incomes (16 percent).

Meanwhil, nearly half of survey respondents (47 percent) picture heaven as a state of being and 40 percent conceptualize heaven as a place. Respondents are almost equally divided between conceptualizing hell as a state of being (43 percent) or as a place (42 percent).

Also, 53 percent strongly or somewhat agree that spirits or ghosts exist; 24 percent at least somewhat agree that when they die, that's the end; and 23 percent at least somewhat believe in reincarnation.

Information for the survey was gathered by the International Communications Research for a recent AARP article. The survey was conducted June 29-July 10, 2006 on 1,011 respondents age 50 and older. AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) is a leading nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people age 50 and over in the United States.

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