Religion can play a major role in the lives of many people, but it often benefits men over women. A new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society suggests that men are less religious in countries with higher levels of gender equality.
Globally, there are significant gender differences in religiosity, with women generally more inclined to hold stronger religious beliefs. This is thought to be partly due to women’s greater capacity for empathy and mentalization. Despite this, organized religion often involves practices beneficial to men but detrimental to women.
Cultural context and norms about sexism can play an important role in religious beliefs. The authors of the new study hypothesized that in societies with lower levels of gender equality, religion may be a useful tool of social influence for men, while in countries with lower levels gender equality are higher, religion may be less appealing.
“One of my interests is how people use religion to achieve their goals, and often those goals are related to mating,” said study author Jordan Moon, a doctoral student at Arizona. State University. “For example, attitudes toward family and sexuality (e.g., opposition to sexual promiscuity) are fairly consistent predictors of religiosity across cultures, and some evidence suggests that people are attracted to religion, in part because it advances their goals in this way.”
“From this point of view, it is interesting to reflect on how and why religious beliefs and behaviors differ from one culture to another. A consistent finding in the study of religion is that women tend to be more religious than men, although the magnitude of this difference varies and there are some cultures where this is not the case. Yet religions often have patriarchal characteristics, rituals, or norms that restrict or punish women more than men, so it’s a bit odd that women are so consistently more religious. My co-authors and I thought it would be interesting to examine how these effects differ across contexts.
“We chose gender equality as a contextual influence because of several recent findings called the ‘gender equality paradox’ – sometimes the differences between men and women are greater in countries with gender equality. sexes is larger, which is the opposite of what many would expect,” Moon said. PsyPost. “Our logic in this research was that if patriarchal aspects of religion are part of what attracts men to religion (or how they use religion to achieve their goals), and if gender equality makes it harder enforcing these rituals or norms, religion might be less attractive to men (compared to women) in societies with greater gender equality.
Moon and his colleagues used data from the World Values Survey and the European Values Survey. This produced very large sample sizes of up to 125,593 participants in 74 countries. They measured religious attendance, prayer frequency, religious affiliation, and attitudes toward casual and premarital sex. In addition, they used a measure that assesses four components of gender equality for different countries: economic participation, education, political empowerment, and health/survival.
The results showed that greater gender equality was associated with fewer religious beliefs and behaviors among men. For women, this effect was weaker and less consistent across cultures. While greater gender equality was associated with lower religious attendance among men, this result was not observed among women. This means that in countries with higher levels of gender equality, the gap between men’s and women’s religious practices is greatest.
“Results have been particularly strong with religious attendance as a result; in all of these models, there was a consistent negative relationship between gender equality and religious attendance for men, but no effect for women,” the researchers wrote in their study. “Open religious participation may make it easier for men to monitor women, control sexual behavior, or signal their value as a partner through religious engagement.”
“I think the main point of the article is to emphasize that context is important,” Moon explained. “Religion is not just a symbolic thing, but actually has many mundane functions – it is sensitive to ‘facts on the ground’. It should therefore come as no surprise that people turn to religion when they have certain needs, or that when they have to meet their needs in other ways, they find religion less appealing.
This study shows the negative relationship between gender equality and religiosity in men, but it cannot talk about the mechanisms that cause this relationship. The authors hypothesize that this could be because men in the more religious society use religion as a signal of virtue or countries with higher gender equality are less threatened. Addressing the underlying causes of this pattern would require further research.
“The biggest caveat is that this data is correlational, so we can’t make causal claims,” Moon said. “Our view is based on the notion that people are more likely to engage in religion when it is compatible with their goals, and that these different contexts (i.e. different levels of equality of sexes) could make religion more or less attractive to people with these goals.
“However, I’m sure many people would think it’s more plausible that the effect goes the other way, with religion reducing (or slowing down) gender equality,” the researcher said. “It’s certainly possible, and in reality I’d bet the effects go both ways – people make decisions about their beliefs in these different cultural contexts and the actions of citizens also influence a country’s gender equality. However, religions are often constrained by the larger cultural context (especially in places where religious diversity is present.) Beliefs and rituals must be acceptable to enough people to thrive, so I suspect religions will bring often changes to remain appealing to as many people as possible.
The study, “Men are less religious in more equal countries“, was authored by Jordan W. Moon, Adam E. Tratner and Melissa M. McDonald.