Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why Are Women More Religious Than Men?

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This was a question posed in a recent Denver Post article put in the declarative form, 'Women Are More Religious Than Men' (p. 1C, April 2).  Recent Pew Research Religion survey findings are the basis, and these have found:

- Globally, more women then men identify with a religion, pray daily and say that 'religion is very important' to them.

- Quantitatively, there are 100 million more religiously -affiliated women than men

- Men make up 55 percent of the world's religiously unaffiliated people

- In the U.S. the religious gender gap is most pronounced with 64 percent of American women expressing religious conviction by praying daily, vs 47 percent of men. (This compares to 15% of women vs. 9% of men in France),

- Most stunning of all, 68 percent of all atheists are men in the U.S.

What gives? All kinds of hypotheses are circulating to explain these differences and in a post I wrote back on Oct. 17, 2014, I referred to a primary reason cited in a salon.com article for fewer females being atheists. If such a dominant cause can account for fewer female atheists it can also account for more female religious practitioners by invoking the converse logic. As the salon.com article noted::

Women are more devout because they have to be. Women’s religiosity is directly related to economic security. The lack of a social safety net means that women, who are still responsible for the bulk of elder and child care, often need to rely on religious organizations to support themselves and their families

This is basically true and one reason the preponderance of female atheists hails from higher socio-economic strata, many in the $75 k - $100k  range. Thus, they need not concern themselves with any need to project a "halo" say to keep their jobs or get better ones. The probability is low they'll ever need to rely on religious charity.  The same is not true for maids, waitresses, and many other low wage workers.   They may not only require food stamps but also supplies from food pantries run by religious groups.

All kinds of other reasons are also given in the Post article for women expressing much more of a religious inclination. These include the female biology, with much less testosterone in play that drives males to take more risks, including greater willingness to gamble there is no "afterlife" just as they gamble a stock will be big winner.

In addition, other researchers have found (ibid.) women "with more feminine traits - like being affectionate, compassionate, sympathetic, tender and loving to children - are more likely to be religious".

Other researchers have appealed more to nurture, that is,  how females are brought up in most countries of the world, including the U.S.  In most cases, women are raised to be less aggressive than males, and to avoid being confrontational. But the very nature of most areligious people or atheists  is to be confrontational because we are challenged often on our unbelief and have to be able to respond. The very adoption of the term "atheist" is a form of verbal confrontation, and explains why many more passive folks are unable to use it - even though they are atheists in every other  respect.

I surmise women are very aware of the negative perception of atheists as well and because of this they are inclined to avoid any associations with atheism. This may also explain the large proportion of American women who are religious to the extent they actually pray daily. Author Barbara Ehrenreich.[1] has shown that American mass culture is saturated by a saccharine “cult of positivity.”  Women as the "avatars"  of social polity and decorum would be much more prone to the culture's socially positive signals and hence avoid anything perceived to undermine it. In this case culture and biology probably play a dual role in not only atheism avoidance, but active religious embrace ("See I definitely am no atheist! I pray!")

Lastly, females are the "guardians" of societal morality more than men. Statistics show they are far less  sexually licentious than males in U.S. society - with fewer partners outside marriage - and also are much less drawn to things like porn or violent movies, say like 'The Hateful Eight' - which wifey refuses to see despite the fact its was mostly filmed in Telluride  - which she's visited a number of times. (There is a reason for the embrace of "chick flicks"!)

If females are more active (i.e. demonstrative) moral arbiters it stands to reason they'd also be more religious, pray, go to Novenas, attend Mass daily etc. as well as espouse  non-negotiable moral positions in line with assorted religious edicts. They'd also avoid atheism because it would be seen in the societal perspective of a moral blight or threat. It is important to note this last moral element cuts across all economic and class levels and hence one finds as many or more higher social class- income females in this group as lower.


[1] Barbara Ehrenreich: “Pathologies of Hope” in Harpers, Feb., 2007.

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