5 Interesting Facts about Women and Religion by Kile Jones

Kile Jones, atheistPart of my research is focused on how the social sciences relate to “religion” and religious studies.  More specifically, I spend time examining the sociology of religion.  I look at stats, demographics, and polls.  I look at rates of attendance, frequency of prayer, levels of “religiosity,” apostates (or the less religiously-loaded term “exiters”), and political outlooks.  I also look at how bias this area of study is in favor of religion.  One facet of this work that has always interested me, is the differences in “gender” and “sex” as they relate to religious beliefs and observances.  Accepting the fact that there are spectrums of sex, gender, and identity, and the presence of difficult philosophical questions surrounding self-identification and the limits of labels, some really interesting facts and statistics crop up time and time again.  In what follows I will lay out a couple of these interesting facts, along with some thoughts on them:

1.  Women are more “religious” than men

In the literature and stats this notion is quite frequently cited.  In 2009, the Pew Forum posted an analysis of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey that was titled, “The Stronger Sex–Spiritually Speaking.”  In this analysis, Pew Forum shows with a variety of measures that women are more “religious” than men.  Some of the explanations given for this fact are that women spend more time at home raising children (thus, overseeing their religious development), women tend to be more relational or community-focused than men, or that women have a more developed ability to control their impulses (and so do not rashly “leave the faith or church”).  I can see feminist criticisms of these points rising on the tips of our tongues.  And yet, there is something to the fact that stats and polls show us over and over that women are more religious than men.

From Pew Forum

From Pew Forum

2.  Catholic Countries have an average 15% lower female labor participation rate than Protestant Countries 

Norton and Tomal point this out in an excellent article on religion and female educational attainment.  The reasons for this can be numerous, but as Norton and Tomal say, “religion alone, therefore, can explain more than one-third of the cross-country variation in female labor force participation rates.”  Many scholars connect this statistic with Max Weber’s notion of the “Protestant Ethic.”  This “ethic,” Weber thought, was one in which Protestants’ material production and fiscal outcomes were indicators of one’s salvation.  This pressure–the pressure to show one’s self to be materially “blessed” by God–played an important role in the development of modern Capitalism.  Some of the other reasons scholars point out are cultural: in predominantly Catholic countries there are more traditional social pressures placed upon women to stay at home and raise children.  Whatever the case, this is an interesting stat.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

3.  Religiosity Contributes to more unequal Gender Outcomes

Surprise!  Norton and Tomal conclude this in their study of the World Values Survey.  This confirms what the Global Peace Index has been reporting for a while: countries with the highest levels of religiosity (Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia) have higher rates of crime, inequality, civil wars, lack of education, etc., while places with lower levels of religiosity (Iceland, Denmark, New Zealand) tend to be more stable, peaceful, and equitable.  This is confirmed once again in the wide-breadth of research done by Steven Pinker in his “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” (for brief responses to his critics, see this).  To put it bluntly: less religiosity means more equality for women.

From the Global Peace Index

From the Global Peace Index

4.  Secular persons share the same voting patters and values as women

Phil Zuckerman, professor of Sociology at Pitzer College (and one of my advisors), says, “Recent studies show that secular individuals are much more supportive of gender equality than religious people, less likely to endorse conservatively traditional views concerning women’s roles, and when compared with various religious denominations, ‘Nones’’ possess the most egalitarian outlook of all concerning women’s rights.”  All the statistics one can dig up show this over and over.  It is hard to find an atheist Republican (around 1 out of 10), and a female one (around 1 out of 4), but it is easy to find socially liberal atheists and women.



5.  10-12% of Senior or Sole Ordained Leaders are Women

This may not shock you, but it certainly is interesting.  Even now, in the second decade of the second millennium C.E., women make up such a small amount of religious leaders.  In both the Faith Communities Today Survey and the National Congregations Survey this percentage is demonstrated.  Per denomination, the numbers of women leaders are highest in the Unitarian Universalist Association (30%) and the United Church of Christ (25%), and lowest in the Free Methodist Church (1%) and the Southern Baptist Convention (4%).

From the National Congregations Study

From the National Congregations Study

The question now is, what do we think about women and religion given these facts and stats?  What should we do with them?

Kile Jones holds a Bachelors of Theology (B.Th.) from Faith Seminary, a Masters of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) and a Masters of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) from Boston University, and is a current Ph.D. in Religion student at Claremont Lincoln University.  He also holds a Certificate in Science and Religion from the Boston Theological Institute. He is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Claremont Journal of Religion (www.claremontjournal.com). His interests include religion and science, atheism, secularism, and philosophy of religion.  He also reviews books for Reviews in Religion and Theology (RRT) and is a Contributing Scholar for State of Formation (http://www.stateofformation.org/author/kile-jones), an academic blog for emerging religious and ethical leaders.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Academy, Activism, Belief, Catholicism, Childbirth, Children, Christianity, civil rights, Ethics, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Hierarchy, Human Rights, Patriarchy, Politics, Women Religious

11 replies

  1. Kile, thank you for all your work and the data behind your argument. I also checked out Steven Pinker’s FAQs page. Fascinating – and depressing. (I’m a British social justice Christian activist: liberal in US terms). It absolutely strikes me how oppressive religion is to women’s rights.

    All my searching over the past 7 years hasn’t shown me a single religion where women are TRULY valued. Except, perhaps the Quaker movement.

    I’m glad that secularism is on the rise, as it’s the only way that human rights will be FULLY realised (and here, I include LGBTG, ethnic minorities and women and children.)

    So thank you.


  2. Kile —

    I think this is an interesting post, and an important one. I’ve been thinking about these issues for years, and I love the stats you include. They’ll make it into an article of mine someday, I think. Thanks. And as I’ve stated on FAR, these are the major reasons that I left mainstream Christianity. But I practice a religion that I find not only inviting to women, but also affirming of women — feminist Wicca.

    I’m also a Unitarian Universalist, and so I want to add to Katharine’s post about Unitarian Universalists. Since 2001 there have been more active women ministers in the UUA than men. I guess leadership in your stats probably includes retired ministers, so we have a time lag statistically for women in ministry, since we all know that until the 1970s very few ministers were women. And UUs have a program called “the Welcoming Congregation,” which most congregations pursue, to certify that we actively welcome and celebrate LGBT folks. As Katharine stated, we value social justice and inclusivity, and our ranks include Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Pagan, Atheist, and Agnostic members. This active tolerance, as I call it, even extends to congregants. As I’ve mentioned several times on FAR, my husband is an atheist, while I practice Wicca.


  3. Metropolitan Community Churches, which is a gay and lesbian denomination has about a 50-50% ratio of male and female ministers. It is virtually equal. A lesbian, Nancy Wilson, is the head of the denomination that Troy Perry founded in 1968.

    The stats in your article were no surprise to me. Secular people are more progressive, lesbian accepting, and woman powerful. Anything that is mired in long established tradition: priests, rocket science, auto mechanics, anything like this is going to be very woman unfriendly or out right dangerous to women.

    I’m not sure if women or men are more religious, since that is really hard to measure. I don’t equate church attendance as necessarily about being religious or maybe spiritual? Hard to say. What I do know is that male rule globally is a living nightmare, and that there really is something wrong with me worldwide. The horror they bring to the world, and what they do to women is unconscionable…Since men are destroying the entire earth now, and escalating the woman hating porn all over the place, they don’t seem religious to me at all, they seem insane.

    So all the stats really tell the story, and men like to measure this stuff, nothing in the stats surprised me one big. Men have to measure the obvious I guess. So what to do about men who abuse power as so-called “religious” leaders? What of the countries that pretty much get rid of religion like Denmark, Sweden and Norway? What of the quality of life of women vs. the power of the male dominant religious dictatorship? Bottom line, you don’t want men running religions that’s for sure.

    Knowing what we know about how religion destroys women’s freedom, why is it that so many women stay in these dreadful places? Why is it so many lesbians I meet so independent, and when lesbians form vast numbers, we simply boot the male dictatorship out of the pulpits. We were aggressive in ending male dominance of MCC, for example, because we are not colonized IN THE HOME by men.


  4. The data is indeed interesting. But I think the power politics are missing which are then juxtaposed to “religiosity”. It’s sorta like the bell curb of the past. The consequences are deemed the reason. Maybe subversive and survivalism is more of a motivation for women already oppressed by still dominant patriarchal cultures. Why then do our strategies of survival and subversion get looked upon as if they are a weakness?


  5. I agree with Amina. Women’s reasons for being religious are not addressed in the statistics you quote. Do some women feel comfortable submitting to the biggest male of all, insofar as their role in life is to submit to males? Do other women feel the power of spirit in all of life? Do some sense that God is like a loving mother? Do some hope that a powerful male God will tramp patriarchal racist colonial men into the dust? Do some hope to avoid eternal punishment in hell by going to church? Do others long for eternal life? Religion is not just one thing for all women.


  6. Patriarchy forces women into these damaging institutions in many parts of the world. The question we need to ask is what does it take for women to gain power AS LEADERS of these places. In MCC, lesbians were very aggressive in confronting male power. Very aggressive, employing radical feminist insights. I don’t see many straight women employing aggressive tactics to force men to shut up, to throw them out of the room so that women can take charge. In one seminary class, the women took kazoos to class, and every time the male professor used a male pronoun for god, the group of women blew the kazoos. It was loud, it was in his face, and it blasted the liberal patriarch.

    Religion and women, women are expected and socialized to defer to men, to placate and humor them. Because there is absolute social pressure on women to “be religious” the statistics are slightly scewed. Since most hetero women are rather stealth in how they deal with men (I just tune them out if they say sexist things)–was what one straight woman told me once, we don’t actually know the full range of women negotiating these women demeaning and male led attrocities worldwide. I myself don’t know why any woman in her right mind would stay in a Mormon or Catholic church, once she came to feminist consciousness, for example. I read with utter shock on this blog the constant justifications for aiding and abetting the absolute enemies of lesbians and feminists worldwide. It is an indoctrinated conformity that holds all women back. But women will do mental gymnastics to justify supporting patriarchal churches, and opinion polls will not even take into account non-hetero denoninations that do have radical equality in church leadership — 50-50 not anything less than that. I for one am tired of gay and lesbian churches that have been around for a very long time now, not being cited for having 50-50 leadership. We need to look at what MCC did, in order for women to claim power, and learn how a woman now runs that denomination. Lesbians are very aggressive, we don’t remain quiet, we maintain an outrage at any form of patriarchy, and we do confront men in an aggressive in your face manner, and that is how you deal with the oppressors. You don’t play nice with patriarchs ever.



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