Women More Religious Than Men

Audio: Does Science Condemn God?

A new analysis of survey data finds women pray more often then men, are more likely to believe in God, and are more religious than men in a variety of other ways.

The reasons, analysts say, could range from traditional mothering duties to the tendency of men to take risks — in this case the chance they might not go to heaven.

The latest findings, released Friday, are no surprise, only confirming what other studies have found for decades. Still, the new numbers illustrate interesting and stark differences. They come from a fresh review of data that was collected in a 2007 survey and initially released last year by the Pew Research Center. The percent of women (and then men) who:

  • Are affiliated with a religion: 86 (79).
  • Have absolutely certain belief in a God or universal spirit: 77 (65).
  • Pray at least daily: 66 (49).
  • Have absolutely certain belief in a personal God: 58 (45).

The survey involved interviews with more than 35,000 U.S. adults by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

George H. Gallup, Jr., in an analysis for the Gallup polling organization back in 2002, wrote that the differences in religiosity between men and women have been shown consistently across the previous seven decades of polls.

"A mountain of Gallup survey data attests to the idea that women are more religious than men, hold their beliefs more firmly, practice their faith more consistently, and work more vigorously for the congregation," Gallup wrote.

Among the reasons women tend to be more religious, he says:

  • Mothers have tended to spend more time raising children, which often means overseeing their involvement in church activities.
  • Though two-income households are more common today, in the past women often had more flexible daily schedules, permitting more church involvement during the week.
  • Women tend to be more open about sharing personal problems and are more relational than men. Other Gallup research shows a higher proportion of women than men say they have a "best friend" in their congregation, he wrote.

Lastly, Gallup argued, "More so than men, women lean toward an empirical [depending on experience or observation] rather than a rational basis for faith."

There may be another reason. Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington, flips the question around: Why are men less religious?

"Studies of biochemistry imply that both male irreligiousness and male lawlessness are rooted in the fact that far more males than females have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses, especially those involving immediate gratification and thrills," Stark argued in a 2002 paper in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

The upshot is that some men are shortsighted and don't think ahead, Stark said, and so "going to prison or going to hell just doesn't matter to these men."

Stark may have purposely overstated the case, but you get the point. My wife suggested another reason: Life is simply harder for women. While I can't argue with that, I also can't find any research connecting that to prayer or church attendance.

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Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.