Why are women more religious than men?

The gender imbalance among church attenders is a long-standing issue.

Globally, women are more devout than men across different religions

More women go to church than men. In Australia, 60% of churchgoers are female, whereas 40% are male.

This figure is constant between 2006 and 2016 and this gender imbalance continues the pattern found across 25 years of the NCLS.

This is the same pattern as in a wide-ranging study by Pew Research, which found that, globally, women are more devout than men across different religions (by several standard measures of religious commitment). Specifically, Christian women are more religious than Christian men across the world.

The gender imbalance among Christian church attenders can partly be attributed to the fact that some churches have an older age profile and women on average live longer than men. However, although differing life expectancies do play a part, they are not the only reason for the gender skew. In every denomination, in every age grouping, women outnumber men.

The gender imbalance among church attenders is a long-standing issue, and many theories have been developed in an attempt to explain it.

These theories, which need to be tested against the evidence at different points in time, include the following:

  • Differences in the ways boys and girls are socialised affect their church involvement. This theory suggests that boys are taught independence and self-reliance, while girls are taught interdependence, obedience and responsibility for others. Consequently, girls are more predisposed to a church involvement which features such behaviour.
  • Australian men are more likely to reject authority structures such as the church. They prefer more egalitarian forms of relationship with others, based around the concept of ‘mateship’.
  • Men are more emotionally inhibited than women. Consequently, this theory would suggest that men are daunted by structures in church life which promote intimacy (e.g. small groups).
  • Women are more likely to seek to instill moral values in their children as part of their role as child-rearers. Women not only look to the church to provide religious education for their children but also attend church in order to be good role models.
  • Women get social status in church that is denied elsewhere. Some social theorists argue that men and women without power or status in the community are more likely to turn to religion as a form of compensation.
  • Men are more likely to be in full-time work and to get their self-esteem from work. Work provides an alternative sense of purpose, community, identity and interests.
  • More controversially, some have theorized that the gender gap in religion is biological in nature, possibly stemming from higher levels of testosterone in men or other physical and genetic differences between the sexes.

In recent years there has been a growing consensus among sociologists that the religious gender gap probably stems from a confluence of multiple factors. While there is still no agreement about which factors are most important, it has been suggested that social and cultural factors, such as religious traditions and workforce participation, rather than biological factors, play an important role.

 

Read more about the demographic profile of church attenders

An ageing church, but not everywhere

The proportion of church attenders 60+ is higher than the general population.

Gender mix in Australian church attenders

Results from the 2016 National Church Life Survey

Age profile of Australian church attenders

Results from the 2016 National Church Life Survey

Comparing Australian Church Attenders by Country of Birth

Results from the 2016 National Church Life Survey

Cultural diversity on the increase in Australian churches

A steady increase in the proportion of church attenders born were overseas in the past decade.

Authors:
Ruth Powell
Data Sources:

Powell, R. (2017). Why are women more religious than men?  NCLS Research/

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