The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

Exploring the Gender Gap

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Exploring the Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

presentation at Adult Forum by
Lynn Holmes
Divinity School Intern with the Congregation
March 31, 2019
photo of participants in a service project
 photo of Sunday morning class
 photo of choir
 photo of student religious life group

Women at the Tomb

  • Mark 15: There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
  • Luke 24: Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Women at the Tomb

  • John 20: Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
  • Matthew 28: Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

About Pew Research Center

  • Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The Center conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. It studies U.S. politics and policy; journalism and media; internet, science and technology; religion and public life; Hispanic trends; global attitudes and trends; and U.S. social and demographic trends.
  • Primary funder is the Pew Charitable Trust

Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

  • This report was produced in 2016 by Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
  • Women are generally more religious especially among Christians
  • Standard lists of history's most influential religious leaders - among them Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) - tend to be predominantly, if not exclusively, male. Many religious groups, including Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews, allow only men to be clergy, while others, including some denominations in the evangelical Protestant tradition, have lifted that restriction only in recent decades. Yet it often appears that the ranks of the faithful are dominated by women.

Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

  • In the United States, for example, women are more likely than men to say religion is "very important" in their lives (60% vs. 47%), according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. American women also are more likely than American men to say they pray daily (64% vs. 47%) and attend religious services at least once a week (40% vs. 32%).
  • Noting similar gender differences in other countries, mainly in Europe, some social scientists have argued that women are universally more religious than men across all societies, cultures and faiths

Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

  • How and why men and women differ in religious commitment has been a topic of scholarly debate for decades. Even today, it continues to inspire much academic research, as well as discussions among the general public. To contribute to this ongoing conversation, Pew Research Center has amassed extensive data on gender and religion in six different faith groups (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated) across scores of countries, including many with non-Christian majorities. Data on affiliation in 192 countries were collected from censuses, demographic surveys and general population surveys as part of the Center's multiyear study projecting the size and geographic distribution of the world's major religious groups from 2010 to 2050.

Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

  • Based on these wide-ranging and comprehensive datasets, this study finds that, globally, women are more devout than men by several standard measures of religious commitment. But the study also reveals a more complex relationship between religion and gender than has been commonly assumed. While women generally are more religious, men display higher levels of religious commitment in some countries and religious groups. And in other contexts, there are few, if any, discernable gender differences in religion.
  • On all the standard measures of religious commitment examined in the study, Christian women are more religious than Christian men. By contrast, Muslim women and Muslim men show similar levels of religiousness on all measures of religious commitment except frequency of attendance at worship services. Because of religious norms, Muslim men attend services at a mosque much more often than Muslim women do.

Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

  • Measuring levels of religious commitment in widely differing societies and faiths is a tricky endeavor. Rather than trying to use a single indicator, this report looks at a variety of measures of commitment, including religious affiliation, frequency of worship service attendance, frequency of prayer, and whether religion plays an important role in a person's life.

Globally, women somewhat more likely to affiliate with a religious faith

  • The first measure the study looks at is affiliation - that is, whether people belong to any particular religion. An estimated 83.4% of women around the world identify with a faith group, compared with 79.9% of men, according to Pew Research Center's analysis of censuses, surveys and population registers in 192 countries and territories. This gap of 3.5 percentage points means that an estimated 97 million more women than men claim a religious affiliation worldwide, as of 2010.
  • In 61 of the 192 countries, women are at least 2 percentage points more likely than men to have an affiliation. In the remaining countries, women and men display roughly equal levels of religious affiliation because in many cases nearly all people of both genders identify with some religious group. There are no countries in which men are more religiously affiliated than women by 2 percentage points or more

Among Christians, women attend religious services more often, but among Muslims and Orthodox Jews, men attend more often

  • Another useful indicator of religious commitment is how often women and men say they attend religious worship services. The biggest exceptions to the overall pattern of women exceeding men in religious commitment can be found on this measure. Among Christians in many countries, women report higher rates of weekly church attendance than men. But among Muslims and Orthodox Jews, men are more likely than women to say they regularly attend services at a mosque or synagogue. Higher levels of weekly attendance among Muslim and Jewish men are due in large part to religious norms that prioritize men's participation in worship services.

Generally, more women than men pray daily

  • Another measure of religious commitment concerns prayer, which can take place privately as well as publicly. Pew Research Center surveys have asked people in 84 countries how often they pray. In about half of those countries (43), substantially more women than men say they pray on a daily basis. Only in Israel, where roughly 22% of all Jewish adults self-identify as Orthodox, does a higher percentage of men than women report engaging in daily prayer. In the remaining countries, women and men are about equally likely to say they pray daily.
  • The difference between women and men in self-reported rates of daily prayer is the biggest average gender gap found in this study. Across the 84 countries for which data are available, the average share of women who say they pray daily is 8 percentage points higher than the average share of men. Even religiously unaffiliated women in some countries, including the United States and Uruguay, report praying daily at higher rates than unaffiliated men do.

Religion equally or more important to women than to men

  • Many Pew Research Center international surveys ask people to assess the importance of religion in their daily lives. Is religion very important, somewhat important, not too important or not at all important to them? 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. But in 36 other countries, women are more likely than men to regard religion as very important - often by notably large margins. Only in Israel and Mozambique are men more likely than women to consider religion very important to them personally.

Christian and Muslim Gaps Differ

  • By most key measures of religious commitment, Muslim men and women are more alike in their levels of religiousness than are Christian men and women. For example, in the 40 countries where data were collected on Muslims' prayer habits, Muslim women report praying daily more often than Muslim men by an average difference of only 2 percentage points.
  • A similar pattern occurs in religion's importance. There is virtually 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. When it comes to weekly attendance at religious services, however, the pattern is very different: Muslim men are more likely than Muslim women to regularly attend services by an average of 28 percentage points across the 39 countries where Muslim attendance data were collected.

Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

Explaining the Religious Gender Gap

  • Scholars of religion have been examining possible reasons for the gender gaps in religious commitment for some time. They have advanced many different theories, which cover a wide range of sources: biology, psychology, genetics, family environment, social status, workforce participation and a lack of "existential security" felt by many women because they generally are more afflicted than men by poverty, illness, old age and violence.
  • Lately, a growing consensus in the academic community is that the religious gender gap probably stems from a confluence of multiple factors. But there is still no agreement on exactly which factors are most responsible for the gender differences.

Connection to Women's Labor Participation

  • 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. As a result, when these two groups of women are compared with men (most of whom are in the labor force), the gender gaps differ. Indeed, Pew Research Center's analysis finds the gap between women who are in the labor force and men tends to be smaller than the gap between women who are not in the labor force and men.
  • Moreover, further analysis shows that across predominantly Christian countries, the overall gender gaps in daily prayer and importance of religion are smaller in countries where more women are in the labor force.

Explaining the Religious Gender Gap

  • That analysis, along with the finding that women are not universally more religious than men, lends support to explanations of the religious gender gap that include "nurture" (i.e., social and cultural forces) and not just "nature" (i.e., biological or evolutionary forces).
  • This report demonstrates that the gender gap is not consistent across societies or religious traditions; differences in religious commitment between men and women vary considerably around the globe.
  • This does not mean explanations that lean heavily on "nature" might not also help explain the religious gender gap and its prevalence throughout the world. But it does suggest that social and cultural factors, such as religious traditions and workforce participation, play an important role in shaping the religious gender gap.

Outside Scholars' Views

  • Sociologist Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University argued that women's greater religiosity is a feature of Christianity more than other religions. Woodhead said that Christianity, to a greater degree than other religions, extols women's traditional roles as unpaid homemaker and caregiver for family members as the ones closest to the self-sacrificing ideal exemplified by Christ.
  • See Woodhead, Linda. 2008. "Gendering Secularization Theory." Social Compass. Also see Woodhead, Linda. 2008. "'Because I'm Worth It': Religion and Women's Changing Lives in the West." In Aune, Kristin, Sonya Sharma and Giselle Vincett, eds. "Women and Religion in the West."

Other Related Studies About Women

Moms Are Influencing Children for Christ. Dads? Not So Much, Survey Finds
Michael Foust | Contributor | Friday, March 22, 2019

Christians are far more likely to say their mothers had a bigger influence on their faith than did their fathers, according to a new Barna study that examines the roles that moms and dads play in the development of children.

The study found that 68 percent of U.S. Christians who grew up with someone who influenced their faith say their mother's faith impacted them. That was followed by the father (46 percent) and a grandparent (37 percent).

Other Related Studies About Women

Ranks of Christian clergywomen increasing, but gender gap remains
Changes since 1970s paved the way, but gender gap remains

By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service Published 8:02 pm EDT, Friday, October 19, 2018

The share of women in the ranks of American clergy has doubled - and sometimes tripled - in some denominations over the last two decades, a new report shows. But Campbell-Reed also found that clergywomen - with the exception of Unitarian Universalists - continue to lag behind clergymen in leading their churches. In the UCC, for example, female and male clergy are equal in number, but only 38 percent of UCC pastors are women.


  • What does this mean for the church?
  • What is at stake?
  • Will this begin to change our view of women's place in the church?
  • Not sure what it means, but will be interesting to watch.