Study shows that gender equality increases with atheism

Study shows that gender equality increases with atheism December 14, 2015

Can atheism increase feminism? A new study by sociologist Landon Schnabel found that the more atheists & agnostics a country has, the greater gender equality it will have. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, so Schnabel made sure to control for several factors. He controlled for country development with the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI measures development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment, and income into a composite index. Even after controlling for HDI, Schnabel found that countries with a higher percentage of non-religious people had higher levels gender equality. 

To measure gender equality, Schnabel used the United Nations Gender Inequality Index and the Social Watch’s Gender Equity Index. The Gender Inequality Index measures: “inequality between women and men on three dimensions: (1) reproductive health, (2) empowerment, and (3) labor force participation.” The Social Watch’s Gender Equity Index assesses gender equity in three areas: “(1) empowerment (percentage of women in technical positions, percentage of women in management and government positions, percentage of women in parliaments, and percentage of women in ministerial posts); (2) economic activity (income and labor force participation gaps); and (3) education (gaps in literacy, primary and secondary school enrollment rates, and tertiary education).”

Analyzing 136 countries with a variety of dominant religions, the study found that non-religiousness was a significant predictor in gender equality in a regression analysis. Schnabel’s study concluded that such effects could be due to a variety of factors.

table 5

Religion could drive gender inequality because it may foster restrictive gender norms. Countries with more non-religious people would not adhere to these traditional gender roles that are reinforced by religion. Similarly, people who value gender equality may see religion as in conflict with gender equality and may be less likely to be religious. Finally, cultures that promote secular values may also bolster greater gender equality (Planned Parenthoods probably wouldn’t ever be attacked if there wasn’t a religious right supporting the terrorism).

Schnabel concludes:

“Though non-religion is not necessary for equality, the least equal countries have the fewest non-religious people—religion does not necessarily preclude equality, but equality is less common in the absence of agnostics and atheists”

Now these results may seem paradoxical as there is definitely a sexism problem within the atheism community. So are atheists really less sexist than other groups of people? The gender equality measures used in this study seem fairly comprehensive, but do they really capture everything? Well, Landon Schnabel, Lori Fazzino, Ariel Sincoff-Yedid, and I wrote an article discussing the nuances of sexism in the atheism community. It will be published in the Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion next year. Stay tuned!


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