Women tend to be more religious than men as research indicates that they participate in religious life more often, pray more often, and feel a greater presence of God in everyday life (1). According to Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce,
“Despite being excluded from leadership positions, in almost every culture and religious tradition, women are more likely than men to pray, to worship, and to claim that their faith is important to them. Women also dominate the world of ‘New Age’ spirituality and are far more superstitious than men” (2).
In the United States, women are more likely than men to say religion is “very important” in their lives (60% vs. 47%) (3). American women also are more likely than American men to pray daily (64% vs. 47%) and attend religious services at least once a week (40% vs. 32%). Fewer American women than men (19% vs. 27%) are religiously unaffiliated.
Further, based on comprehensive datasets, globally, women are more devout than men by several standard measures of religious commitment. Roughly 83.4% of women around the world identify with a faith group, compared with 79.9% of men. In 61 of 192 countries surveyed, women are at least two percentage points more likely than men to have an affiliation. Across the 84 countries for which data are available, the average share of women who say they pray daily is eight percentage points higher than the average share of men.
In 46 of the 84 countries for which data are available, women and men are about equally likely to say religion is “very important” in their lives. However, in 36 other countries, women are more likely than men to regard religion as very important and often by notably large margins. Only in Israel and Mozambique are men more likely than women to consider religion very important to them personally.
There are some exceptions to the religious gender gap. For instance, Muslim women and Muslim men show similar levels of religiousness on all measures of religious commitment except frequency of attendance at worship services. Muslim men attend services at a mosque much more often than Muslim women do.
Similarly, among Orthodox Jews, men are more likely than women to say they regularly attend services at a mosque or synagogue. This is likely due in large part to religious norms that prioritize men’s participation in worship services. For example, in Orthodox Judaism, communal worship services cannot take place unless a minyan, or quorum of at least ten men, is present. Further, data from 63 countries regarding beliefs in heaven, hell, and angels indicate that men and women usually display similar levels of belief in these concepts.
There is almost no difference between the shares of Muslim women and Muslim men who say religion is “very important” to them in the 40 countries with data on this topic. This differs from Christian women and Christian men. Across all measures of religious commitment, Christian women are more religious than Christian men, often by considerable margins. In 54 countries where data were collected on Christians’ daily prayer habits, Christian women report praying daily more frequently than Christian men by an overall average gap of ten percentage points. In 29 of those countries, more women than men reported praying daily by margins of ten percentage points or more, ranging upward to 25 points in Greece. Similarly, Christian women are more likely than Christian men to say religion is “very important” to them by an overall average of seven percentage points across 54 countries.
What Explains this Religious Gender Gap: Nature or Nurture?
Several explanations have been offered to account for the religious gender gap. Both nature and nurture explanations have been provided.
Scholars who think nature accounts for the religious gender gap point to physical or physiological causes such as hormones, genes, or biological predispositions. Sociologist Rodney Stark argues that men’s physiology, notably their generally higher levels of testosterone, accounts for gender differences in religion (4). Testosterone, Stark maintains, is associated with men’s greater propensity to take risks, which he argues is why men are less religious than women. This would suggest that women are more religious because they have less risk-promoting testosterone.
Sociologists John P. Hoffman of Brigham Young University and Alan S. Miller posited that men appear to have a greater innate tendency to take risks and are therefore more willing than women to gamble that they will not face punishment in the afterlife (5). As a result, men are less religious. Since women are generally more risk-averse, they turn to religion to avoid eternal punishment or to secure a place in heaven.
Along nurture lines, some scholars explain the religious gender gap as a result of socialization into traditional gender roles, lower rates of female workforce participation, and national economic structures.
Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce argue that women’s dominant role in childbirth and death keeps women closer to religion than men. They also claim that men’s pressure on women to be religious as a way to control female sexuality is also a factor (6). Further, they cite the earlier secularization of men as a factor. Men’s pre-eminent roles in the workforce and public life meant they were generally affected earlier than women by secularizing forces that reduced the plausibility of religious beliefs. As women become more like men in activities outside the home, they theorize, women also may become more similar in levels of religiousness. They postulate that the religious gender gap may eventually disappear as gender roles become more alike and gender equality becomes more commonplace.
Sociologically, women who participate in the labor force tend to show lower levels of religious commitment than women who do not work outside the home for pay (7). Sociologist David de Vaus and political scientist Ian McAllister claim that the lower rates of female labor force participation “are the major cause” of women’s greater religious commitment. Full-time female workers are not only less religious than women who do not work but also display a religious orientation similar to men. Work outside the home, the two hypothesize, could provide “sociopsychological benefits” otherwise gotten from religion and “makes religion less important and less relevant for some people (8).
Another explanation is that women are more religious because they usually experience less security in their lives since they are more vulnerable than men to the hardships of poverty, debt, poor health, old age, and a lack of physical safety. Women give higher priority to security and religion that provides a sense of safety and well-being (9). Other scholars think that the religious gender gap probably stems from multiple factors both biological and sociological (10).
1. De Vaus, David., and McAllister, Ian. 1987. “Gender Differences in Religion: A Test of the Structural Location Theory.” American Sociological Review 52(4):472-481; Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce. 2012. Why are Women more Religious than Men? Oxford: Oxford University Press; Li, Shanshan., Okereke, Olivia I., Chang, Shun-Chiao., Kawachi, Ichiro., and VanderWeele, Tyler J. 2016. “Religious service attendance and lower depression among women—a prospective cohort study.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 50(6):876-884; Pew Research Center. 2016. “The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World.” Available; Pew Research Center. 2016. “7. Theories explaining gender differences in religion.” Available; Forlenza, Orestes V., and Vallada, Homero. 2018. “Spirituality, health and well-being in the elderly.” International Psychogeraitrics 30(12):1741-1742.; Jensen, Mie A. 2019. “Why are Women More Religious than Men?” Available; Peteet, John R., Zaben, Faten A., and Koenig, Harold G. 2019. “Integrating spirituality into the care of older adults.” International Psychogeraitrics 31(1):31-38.
2. Oxford Scholarship Online. n.d. “Why are Women more Religious than Men?” Available.
3. Pew Research Center. 2016. “The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World.” Available.
4. Stark, Rodney. 2002. “Physiology and Faith: Addressing the ‘Universal’ Gender Difference in Religious Commitment.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41(3):495-507.
5. Miller, Alan S., and John P. Hoffmann. 1995. “Risk and Religion: An Explanation of Gender Differences in Religiosity.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34(1):63-75.
6. Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce. 2012. Ibid. p. 172-175.
7. De Vaus, David., and Ian McAllister. 1987. Ibid.
8. De Vaus, David., and Ian McAllister. 1987. Ibid.
9. Norris, Pippa., and Ronald Inglehart. 2008. “Existential Security and the Gender Gap in Religious Values.” Draft chapter for Social Science Research Council conference on Religion & International Affairs, New York, Feb. 15-16, 2008.
10. Sullins, D. Paul. 2006. “Gender and Religion: Deconstructing Universality, Constructing Complexity.” American Journal of Sociology 112(3):838-880.