Women are More Religious, but Why?

WomenBibleStudy1.jpgThe Baylor Survey of Religion confirmed a long held claim: women are more religious (see Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe. Here’s a big picture set of numbers:

69% vs. 57% believe in God
Men are twice as likely to be atheists.
77% vs. 68% believe Jesus is the Son of God.
Weekly church attendance: 40% vs. 31%
Prays at least once a day: 57% vs. 40%.
Reads the Bible weekly: 32% vs. 24%.
HIgh on religious experience index: 31% vs. 22%
This is true in the world data; women are more religious in the whole world. Same true in non-religious cultures and in Islamic countries. This gender difference is universal.
Socialization? Nope.
Career vs. homemaker women? Same.
Sex-role socialization? Nope.
In fact, gender difference in religiousness is greater in less traditional societies.
What does this say about the so-called feminization of the Church? Or about the attempts to find more males? Or about making men more masculine?

Alan Miller famously connected lack of male religiousness to risk-taking stats; that is, men are more risky and reckless and so they are more “rebellious” when it comes to religion. (How’s that for a sentence with Rs?) Miller discovered that risk takers and irreligiousness were correlated for both men and women. 
But men are much more likely to be risk takers.
So what makes men more risky? Some theorize that it has to do with group survival and that males who were risky have been needed.
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  • Kyle

    Hey Scot,
    I think the numbers are off, because if only 69% of women believe in God and 57% of men, then I highly doubt that 77%/68% believe Jesus is his son!

  • RJS

    Making men more masculine or making church more masculine?

  • Danny

    Women are more evolved than men.

  • MarkP

    Hasn’t this always been the case? Since Monica and Augustine, hasn’t the model been the woman kneeling in church, praying that her son or husband would come around?(Or, more prosaically, waiting for her husband to sober up after a night with his friends on Saturday. Or, in her role as chief child rearer, bringing the kids to get them some religious foundation?
    We tend to think of men when we think of church history, but those tend to be people who chose the church as a career — often with all the ambition and striving that implies. My guess is it was still the women who wanted to show up on Sunday morning.
    So I don’t think it has anything to do with the feminization of the church, at least if you’re thinking of that as a modern phenomenon.

  • Rick in Texas

    If men are twice as likely to be atheists, this would explain why atheist men can come across as a little cranky.

  • Scot McKnight

    The question was What is your personal belief about Jesus? and 77% of women said he was Son of God. I suspect there is a gap in our knowledge, not the stat.

  • I wonder if the study took into account the longevity of women over men?

  • Scot McKnight

    Rupert, yes it did.
    Captcha: until batman

  • Those with less power are more inclined to feel they have less control over their lives and that they are less valued. Religion becomes a way of having more control over your life (by connection to God/forces that have power) and of securing value for yourself.
    Note who tends to be more religious:
    Blacks and Latinos more than Whites
    Less educated more than the educated
    Poor more than the wealthy
    Women more than men.
    In each of these dyads, those with more power are less religious.
    So if I were doing a sociological study, I would hypothesize that greater sense of control a person feels he has over his life the less he feels they need religion. Thus, people in more empowered demographic groups will have less need of religion. It is interesting that you noted that in less traditional societies the difference between men and women narrows. Well, women in less traditional societies have more power and status. Since men have greater power in every society it makes sense that men across all societies have less need of religion.
    So how do you reach more men? You have to help them burst their false bubble of self-sufficiency. I would also suggest that the greater propensity to risk-taking is related to feeling empowered relative to women.
    I’ve got no sociological study to back this up but it is my best guess. There was also I guy who once commented about how hard it is for the rich (people with wealth and prestige) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I think he was on to something.

  • MarkP

    One place thinking about this has led me is to remember that Jesus is not portrayed in the Gospels as leading church services. He taught (and much of his teaching was quasi-political in nature, criticizing the powers that be and generating controversy), he healed the sick, and he prayed when he needed to. But leading common prayer and singing songs? Apparently not so much.

  • Kyle

    Hey Scot,
    I found the issue. The stats above for belief in God’s existence are those who answered that they have no doubts that God exists. Those with some doubts, those who sometimes believe in God, etc. are excluded. That seems to be the gap in the numbers.

  • EricG

    Some people, including Driscoll, have claimed that the American church has been “feminized” in recent years. This data seems to suggest that Driscoll is wrong: This has nothing to do with recent years, or American church culture. Stark’s data shows this has been a universal phenomena across many decades and many countries and cultures.

  • Scot McKnight

    EricG, you are exactly right. And if Michael Kruse is right, the one thing that will not increase male participation is appeal to their power.

  • RJS

    Interestingly enough – Ecklund’s survey of scientists showed no gender difference in belief/unbelief.

  • MarkP

    “the one thing that will not increase male participation is appeal to their power.”
    … with one caveat. My guess is that times of historically high male participation have been times when the church/state barrier has been down and church has been a place of political power-brokering. I suspect a lot of business got done after church in puritan New England, or 16th century Geneva, or, probably, the first century synagogue gatherings Jesus frequented. People sat in seats that were sorted by their rank, they socialized with people of their rank, and so on. (and by the way, I think Michael is right on in his analysis, fwiw.)

  • Robin

    I think it could also just be a general problem with human culture. The first thing I thought about when reading these stats is that men are more likely to (1) be alcoholics (2) sleep around (3) be problem gamblers (4) use addictive drugs (5) leave the families, etc.
    One, sociological, explanation for these perceptions of mine would be that women are socialized from an early age to be responsible and ladylike, while men are socialized to basically be boorish. It doesn’t surprise me that if men are socialized from an early age to basically emulate what they see in culture that they don’t end up in the church.
    Does anyone have data to prove or dispute this hypothesis?

  • Randy G.

    I am surprised not at all. One of the comments of observers of the Great Awakening in the 1740s was that it attracted women more than men. Charles Finney commented in the 1830s about the same thing. In fact it caused him no end of trouble — both the difference in numbers and the adoring women. I believe Michael W. Kruse is correct about the axis being control over life situations, and that the key to increasing men’s activity in the church has more to do with adjusting their gender expectations — independence being a large part of that.
    Randy G.

  • Jason Lee

    One thought that seems to make sense to me is this:
    In general women are more invested in the institution of the family (not least because they can give birth to children). The institution of religion largely supports the family. Therefore women are more likely to also invest in religion, the family-supporting institution that it is.
    This remains a big puzzle. Read the series of sociology of religion papers below for more than you probably ever wanted to hear on the subject:

  • DRT

    I have a working hypothesis that the single most important “thing” in religion is in describing a relationship. Religion is all about the relationship. One of the most pervasive illusions in our society is that people feel that they can, in some way, be independent and that their existence is somehow self instantiating. Women, imo, have a much higher innate awareness of the relational nature of people and society and therefore are much more likely to place value on the nature of religion in describing relationships.

  • “how hard it is for the rich (people with wealth and prestige) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”
    Never thought of it that way, but I think it’s right on.

  • Jason Lee

    Could be because scientists in elite universities have considerable power. They’re also heavily tied into career and probably less tied into family concerns than the general population (eg, the tenure clock may seriously hamper fertility). Such factors likely change the game for elite scientist females and wash out the female-religion connection for them.

  • Jason Lee

    And women’s relational bent could stem in part from their strong investment (or anticipated investment) in the family. Even most women who for whatever reason aren’t so invested in the family are surrounded by other women who are, and who they likely more deeply relate with than men.

  • Kruse is brilliantly correct, and also shockingly wrong. Yes, the key demographical indicator is lack of power, but
    Being religious doesn’t make up for a lack of control over your life. That is, it doesn’t give you a feeling of self-control. Quite the contrary. Typically, being religious has meant that one must submit to yet another control structure giving instructions for how YOU should be living your life. (I mean the human control structure, not God Himself, necessarily.)
    Thus, subgroups more strongly conditioned to accept such control structures, are more likely to be found ALSO in religious institutions.
    Jesus empowered his male disciples. Read the Gospels sometime looking only for instances where His followers took initiative. Yes, he corrected them in many of those instances, but the fact that they kept on interjecting directively also goes to show that in all the length of time they’d been with him, he’d not shut down their initiative taking impulses. Somehow, they felt free to be ‘independent within the group’, to some degree.
    Kruse’s solution (make the men get used to being more docile) doesn’t seem to be what Jesus did. It may be nothing but social conditions that eventually force christian authority structures to rethink things in the terms I’m suggesting… but the Lord’s own manner [of conferring religion on his first followers] was still very different than ours.
    Jesus didn’t control his disciples. How utterly revolutionary.

  • Larry

    Church like school is a closed in top down experience. Both have a sanctified authority figure. Both involve quiet listening. NONE of this has anything to do with they way Christians lived for the first 300 years of church history. Christian met for group meals and then listened to and recited poetry and songs. They discussed as equals what it meant to be followers of christ in fact women key participants
    Apostle blow hards like Paul and Peter were commenting and critcizing existing christ groups. They began the long trend to BORING hiearchal church going and the silencing of women.

  • Dan

    I agree with you, but don’t you think that different people experience deep relationship differently? Isn’t it reasonable to believe that (in general) men and women find, experience, and feel satisfaction in relationship differently?
    I believe this is so. I also believe that the so-called feminization is less about making the church feminine, but more about living out the relationship you describe in ways that are (in general) more appreciated by women.
    For anyone to suggest that God “relates” to all people (male & female) in the same way, reaches those people in the same way, and satisfies the longings in their hearts the same way is silly. I don’t think you’re saying that, but it just needed to be said.
    Again, in general, I totally agree with you about relationship being key, but I believe the church found it easier throughout history to develop satisfying relationships between God and women then it did between God and men (the study itself said men are “more risky – read, unpredictable IMO)…hence, the so-called feminization of the church. All people and all institutions tend to play to their strengths and over time develop patterns in their behavior and style as a result.

  • DRT

    Agree, people find different ways to relate to God at different stages of their lives, but God relates to all people in the same way. I think that is the point of the religion (with the exception that we all argue about just judgment….). It is showing how to relate.
    I think the chickification is a red herring. It is not about men and women, it is about having the definition of healthy godly relationship. As I was growing up I was enamored by the lyrics to Led Zepplin’s Good Times Bad Times
    In the days of my youth
    I was told what it means to be a man
    Now I’ve reached that age
    I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can
    No matter how I try
    I find my way into the same old jam
    The definition of what it means to be a man was very apparent in the blue collar neighborhood of my youth. We all went to church and were told that the point is for us to be good. Today, the religions still teach that the point is somehow a personal salvation and to be good. But we need to change that.
    We need to develop a definition of what it means to be a man that includes some of the real values that this song meant to me when I was in the days of my youth. Things like you don’t pick on people who are smaller than you, only ones bigger. You stand up for the down trodden and abused. You honor the women (because they can make your life hell if you don’t). These values of my youth are in no way chickified, but I contend are Godly. They are different ways that people can relate to God but God relates to people in the same way.
    I clearly have more to think about. Sorry for sort of thinking out loud here….

  • DRT

    BTW, I was overstating my view a bit. Forgive me, but even Jesus was hyperbolic at times.

  • Perhaps it is that women believe that God both hears and understands then and values them enough to offer intimate relationship and personal empowering by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
    They might also believe Paul (following Jesus) when he talks about how men are to behave: laying down their lives for their wives, as Christ did for the church. This is something that engenders hope where there is frequently despair and oppression.
    There are men who want to view Jesus through a power/command paradigm, and so are drawn to religion. There are also some who get the servant nature of God, and are drawn to relationship.
    But it is really true that woman “get” relationship more readily than men … and so resonate with a God who is so devoted to relationship as to embody frail humanity in order to live among us.
    Men who value being loved unconditionally while being drawn to Jesus as the example of being fully human are, in my experience, the ones who embrace and encourage the sisters to fully engage in the life that God offers us in Jesus.
    Dying to self is not for wimps. Neither is giving birth and raising children. Marriage is the first relationship where God asks us to die to self. Parenting is the next step. God is the perfect model for both relationships — walking the talk in earth in the body of Jesus.

  • Robert

    The current unemployment (at least in the US) has fallen disproportionately on men. If lack of power leads to religiousity will this lead to more men becoming religious?

  • Rick

    Women seem to be more well-rounded, thus do a better job taking religion into consideration.
    Men seem to be too specific issue/task oriented, and if that does not include religion, it is left (pushed?) out.

  • MatthewS

    Michael #9,
    I was reminded of a couple of McLaren’s comments on JesusCreed about how the Christian narrative has been oppressive and that he was trying to help the oppressed. There are other interacting variables. Even so, if the oppressed need to be rescued from the Christian narrative, might one wonder why they are the ones that gather to it in greater numbers? Or am I just connecting weird dots in space?

  • I couldn’t decipher the captcha, thought I had saved the comment, but lo and behold, I hadn’t.
    This does seem to cast doubt on the notion that the Church in America has been feminized, if this is indeed a worldwide phenomena (apart from societies in which religion is enforced).
    It would be good if Stark or others studied and tried to assess how cultures view masculinity. And historians the same, going back to the Ancient Near East.
    We are impacted by stories and images in those stories as to what masculinity is. Rugged American individualism in general in our case in the United States might be the default position. Comparing the way of Jesus with other ways in part of Eugene Peterson’s book, “The Jesus Way,” I find instructive for us today.

  • Fish

    I just find that women seem closer to the image I have of Christ. Patient, kind, forgiving, sensitive, communal, sharing. Perhaps that is why God led me to the Methodist church. It took a woman pastor to help me find God. I now know some great male pastors but I still find women pastors easier to talk to about matters of pastoral care.

  • Robyn

    Yikes. Lots of generalizations in these comments. Anyone have more than anecdotal support?

  • “Some people, including Driscoll, have claimed that the American church has been “feminized” in recent years. This data seems to suggest that Driscoll is wrong”
    No, it just suggests that this particular data doesn’t support his position. It doesn’t refute his position.
    I think Driscoll’s man act is in response to the emergent movement he has abandoned. The emergent church presents a milquetoast vision of the son of God (Driscoll’s sky fairy motif) that most evangelical churches reject. It seems as though he has backed off some of his more excessive rhetoric of late.
    I think women tend to be more drawn to the civil religion component of Christianity. The poll seems to demonstrate quite a bit of confusion generally about who God is, which would seems to gel with that assessment.

  • Bill #23
    I think you are reading things into my comment that aren’t there.
    First, by point was about male self-sufficiency. I did not propose that they become docile. I rather getting to their false sense of invulnerability and independence. One need not be docile to appreciate their own limits and proper place in the order of things.
    Yes, religion … I’m speaking of religion in general, not just Christianity … does give you power. It can be in the form of “magic” where you are able to sway nature or the gods to do your bidding on your behalf. It can be about becoming allied with one who is more powerful than you and those who threaten you. It can be about realizing the you can readily lay down your life today because you will be resurrected in the Kingdom of God tomorrow … you become free from this world and at the same time free to act in this world. That is power.

  • I don’t know how much credence to give the studies but I read the connectors that connect the two halves of the brain are significantly less than in women. Maps of brain activity when reading a book to group of male and female subjects shows women with activity in many areas of the brain while the brain activity in men is restricted to only one part of the brain. It is suggested that men compartmentalize aspects of life more easily then women. (And I’ll say here that the ability to compartmentalize isn’t always a bad thing.)
    I don’t think it is purely socialization question … that boys are simply taught to be boorish … though clearly there is the “boys will be boys mentality.” I just don’t think the genes can be blamed self-sufficient attitudes of entitlement. That is called human depravity.

  • awenburg

    I agree that the feeling (or illusion) of strength/power is a factor in one’s understanding of their need for religion and the gospel. It’s certainly easier to surrender to a greater power when your power seems so small. That’s why recovery programs recognize the need to hit rock bottom before really beginning the recovery process. The first three steps of twelve involve admitting one is powerless over their addiction and surrendering to a higher power. It seems that living a surrendered life to Christ is only possible when we initally and then consistently recognize our own brokenness. So I agree with Michael Kruse: “You have to help them burst their false bubble of self-sufficiency.” However, this is obviously a need for both men and women. Perhaps this is why it is slightly easier for women and marginalized groups to do because they do not assume they do or should have as much power as men, etc.
    As to the idea of empowering men in the church…it is certainly the broken, surrendered person who is filled with the power of God. Assuming power through position, outside of brokenness/surrender, is effective in getting men involved in church structure, but sadly not in transformational ministry.

  • Robyn

    So what makes men more risky?
    Testosterone. Endocrinology may be your answer to this question, at least. Fascinating book: Pink Brain/Blue Brain by Lise Eliot.