Why is skepticism primarily a male thing?

Looking at survey data sociologists present about religion and secularity, I find the gender differences that show up to be rather striking. Among skeptics of religion, men invariably outnumber women. A typical statistic might have that in a given population of people identifying themselves as religious nonbelievers, 60% are men and 40% women.

Interpreting such data is always difficult. On one of the articles I just read, I ran into a comment tying this gender imbalance to males being more likely to challenge social authority. Maybe so, but that just pushes the question back a stage. And I have my doubts as well. The same sort of gender difference also shows up in surveys of paranormal beliefs not associated with mainstream religion—but only in paranormal beliefs that are overtly “spiritual” in character. UFOs as alien spacecraft, for example, seems to be more of a male belief.

So what’s going on? What are the causes behind this reliable (it seems) result that women are more spiritual/religious, and men overrepresented among skeptics?

I can speculate easily enough. I expect, for example, that the more domestic orientation of traditional women’s roles has something to do with it, generating more female support for religion as an institution bolstering family and social stability. The more relevant variable is perhaps not gender but relative social privilege. After all, socioeconomically more disadvantaged populations tend to be more religious.

But I don’t know of any substantial research proposing a detailed causal explanation. (Please tell me about it if you know.)

The association of nonbelief with relative privilege raises some interesting questions in any case. Moral critics of religion make much of how religion is correlated with social conservatism (another reliable survey result, by the way), hoping that a decline in the social power of supernatural beliefs will have emancipatory effects. Yet groups that are disadvantaged also tend to be more religious, perhaps because they have a greater need to rely on networks of social solidarity, and religion often seems to be central to human social cohesion.

A Very Rough Sketch of an Objection to Quentin Smith's Argument for Moral Realism
Some Thoughts on Naturalism and Morality
Not this Again!
Parody: Ben Affleck and Sam Harris Debate Scientology
About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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