Males, Females and Religion

The Boston Globe has a story that appears typical of religion in general, not just Judaism:

At the Reform movement’s seminary, 60 percent of the rabbinical students and 84 percent of those studying to become cantors are female. Girls are outnumbering boys by as much as 2 to 1 among adolescents in youth group programs and summer camps, while women outnumber men at worship and in a variety of congregational leadership roles, according to the Union for Reform Judaism.

The evidence is everywhere. At Temple Sinai in Sharon, nine of the 11 members of this year’s confirmation class were girls. At Temple Beth David in Canton, last Saturday’s Bible study drew 11 women and no men. At Temple Isaiah in Lexington, the executive board for the last year had eight women and one man. And at the Prozdor, an intensive supplementary high school program at Hebrew College in Newton, 59 percent of the students are female.

“After bar mitzvah, the boys just drop out,” said Sylvia Barack Fishman, a professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University and the coauthor of a study on “Gender Imbalance in American Jewish Life,” which was publicly released last week.

Some of the men might be driven away from Judaism in this instance because of petulance (We can’t run things so we’ll just leave!!), but that does nothing to explain why the pews (churches or synagogues) are more heavily populated by females than males. It has always been my impression that women are more religious than men; indeed, I suspect that a lot of male attendance at church is due to wives and mothers pressing them into it.

I haven’t seen a lot of research into this, and a quick Google search wasn’t all that helpful, but it would be interesting to check into. Are women more religious than men and if so, why?

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Robert Prather
About Robert Prather
Robert Prather contributed over 80 posts to OTB between October 2005 and July 2013. He previously blogged at the now defunct Insults Unpunished. Follow him on Twitter @RobPrather.


  1. Bithead says:

    It has been my observation that the degree of devotion to religion, at least in the west, is driven mostly by the female on the relationship, even during the days when females being leaders within the church was frowned upon. That they are now rising to leadership positions, given an apparent dearth of males in those roles, I don’t find particularly a shock, though I do find it interesting.

  2. DL says:

    This probably doesn’t include the many millions of nuns that left the Catholic Church in the sixties and seventies or those women since who murdered fifty million of their own flesh and blood?

    Then there was that contrast between a male (Judas)thirty pieces of silver – wow! and a female (Mary) Be it done unto me…

    A soul in the eyes of God is a soul – gender not-with-standing.

    I suspect that there will be an equal number of female and male sheep and goats on Judgment Day.

  3. Bobbert says:

    Two reasons, I think:

    1) Religion is seen as a *crutch* – as something that helps you cope with life – and men like to pretend we don’t need help. It’s the same reason we drive in circles for 3 hours instead of asking for directions.

    2) We like to think we’re more logical than women. (I didn’t say we *were* more logical, but we think we are.) Faith requires the abandonment of logic to a certain degree.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Many great thinkers over time have explained that faith does not mean abandonment of reason and logic. It could also be that religious faith is a burden rather than a crutch.

    Men seem to be less inclined to group activities than women. The solitary male stereotype certainly extends to church attendance. Men also are less open with their feelings and church services require a certain opening up of one’s self. The guarded nature of males does not mix well with modern church services.

  5. Michael says:

    I don’t think it has anything to do with religion at all, but rather with the structure of our churches.

    Men in general are less willing to be subservient to the authority of another than women are. Following a pastor or church leaders requires deferring to their judgments over yours, implicitly acknowledging them as being “above” you at some level. Our culture makes this a negative trait for a man, but a positive for women.

    Also, outside of the authoritative hierarchy of the church, it is more like the family structure where women traditionally take more responsibility of organization and maintenance than men, so I’m not surprised they they volunteer more for those areas.

    Please not I’m not making any judgments about any of these things being good or bad, it’s just my own thoughts based on my own observations of people and churches.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think it depends on the denomination. I belong to one which does not ordain women. Women have their guild organizations, but general don’t have general leadership positions. In some churches women aren’t allowed to vote (decided on a church by church basis, our particular church allows woman voters). In most of the support positions (e.g. charities), there is usually a balance between men and women participating.

    We tend to have a balance between women and men up to ages 65/70+. I suspect that the gender imbalance among the elderly is explained by actuarial tables. For every single adult woman, I can think of a single adult man who attends. Depending on the confirmation year, the ratio swings back and forth, but then the same is true for the baptisms for a given year. The youth group is generally in balance (though we tend to have a certain drop of in participation by both genders after confirmation, which I suspect is an artifact of youth).

    Now you can speculate as to whether it is following biblical precepts or another cause that keeps the genders in balance.

  7. As Steve noted, faith does not require the abandonment of reason. Believers just start with a different set of assumptions.

    I see gender diversity training in the future for some of the commenters here. Nonetheless, here are some observations, not value judgments:
    1) Women tend to be more emotional than men on average and religion can address this rather well.
    2) Women still have the lion’s share of child rearing responsibilities. Support structures such as those offered by churches, synagogues, etc. will therefore naturally see more traffic from women than men.
    3) The feminization of society, and religion, continues unabated. Women will feel more comfortable with this than men — on average.

    Nominally, religiousness is an artifact of society in the West rather than vice versa. Then again, maybe Tim Allen nailed it a long time ago with men are pigs.

  8. Michael says:

    As Steve noted, faith does not require the abandonment of reason.

    No, but dogma usually does, and that makes up an unfortunately large portion of religious belief in this country.

  9. These are all excellent comments and I will try to address this topic again when I’ve had time to research it.