Why are women more religious than men? Science has a surprising answer

In almost all countries around the world, women are more religious than men.

For example, in the United States, there’s a significant 12 percentage point difference between men and women when it comes to religiosity.

What explains the difference?

A new study published in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion suggests that there’s one key factor with regards to the difference in religiosity between men and women.

What is it?

According to study author John P. Hoffmann, a professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, it’s because men are more willing to take risks.

Here’s how he explained the results of the study to Psy Post:

“We recalled that, long ago, the philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal had proposed that believing in God was a risk-avoidant strategy and not believing was risky. We then married the ideas that women are more religious than men, men are usually greater risk takers than women, and religious involvement may be a risk avoidant life strategy to hypothesize that risk preferences might account for at least some of the gender difference in religious beliefs and behaviors.”

The study used data from data from several surveys completed by more than 20,000 people, analysing their risk-taking preferences and demographic information.

It’s not the first time Hoffman has put forth this theory. In 1995, he argued that “once preferences for risk are considered, the well-known gap in religiousness between females and males dissipates.” Yet he wasn’t able to replicate the results until this most recent study.

In his new study, Hoffman examined data from the 2015 Monitoring the Future study, the 2010 National Survey of Drug Use and Health and the 2005 National Survey of Youth and Religion. In total, these sources recorded the risk preferences, demographic variables and religiousness of 22,745 American adolescents.

Comparing the data revealed that in general, men are more willing to take risks than women. Yet when risk-taking was used as a control variable, the differences in religiosity between men and women almost disappeared.

As Hoffman said:

“One takeaway of these studies is that one of the reasons, but certainly not the only reason, that young men are less involved in religion than young women is because they are more likely to say they like to take risks. Thus, those interested in understanding why some people are more religious than others may wish to consider not only their core beliefs and life experiences, but also their tendency to behave in a risky manner.”

Hoffman was quick to caution that the results of the study don’t definitely establish a link between risk-taking and religiosity. Many other factors may be involved in why people become religious:

“The study found a modest statistical association between gender, risk preferences and a few measures of religious belief and involvement. But it is clear that there are many other factors that affect individual involvement in religion and that might account for any of the gender differences. Whereas this study makes a small contribution to unveiling gender differences in religion, researchers would be wise to focus on characteristics that have a more dramatic influence.”

What else may explain the religiosity-gender gap?

Sociologists Omar Lizardo and Jessica L. Collett once wrote that the religiosity-gender gap is a “genuine scientific puzzle.”

Most explanations will fit either with a “nature” explanation or a “nurture” explanation.

As a Pew Research Center article recently suggested, this scientific puzzle is unlikely to be concluded any time soon:

“The ‘nature’ theories that focus on physical, biological or genetic differences between men and women have not found a measurable factor that has been definitively linked to greater religiosity. And the ‘nurture’ theories that pinpoint social factors as the principle mechanism in explaining the religious gender gap all face a problem: Despite the vast social changes and gender role transformations of recent decades, the religious gender gap persists in many societies.”

It’s difficult to come up with a definitive answer to the question of why women are more religious than men.

Perhaps we need to be comfortable with not knowing, while continuing to explore the question why people are religious in the first place.

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Notable replies

  1. ACD says:

    Religion addresses the unknown. Arguably, those who are deemed religious (however that may be measured) may be the greater risk-takers. The fact that it is women and not men who bear children, it seems to me, speaks to women’s greater tolerance for risk. Personally, I have not seen evidence in my life for the claim that men are less religious than women. The Pew Study states: " Based on these wide-ranging and comprehensive datasets, this study finds that, globally, women are more devout than men by several standard measures of religious commitment." I submit that belief, in my opinion the true manifestation of religious devotion and commitment, defies measurement.

  2. It is obvious! Woman are more intelligent and creative than men.

  3. ACD says:

    I think this sort of categorical generalization is bigotry.

  4. What are you talking about? What generalization?

  5. ACD says:

    “Woman are more intelligent and creative than men.” This is a generalization. And it just as bigoted as saying that any group in inferior to another.

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