Why are women (slightly more) religious?

Are women more likely to be stupid/gullible? That seems to be the assumption that the ungenerous of us might make when considering the 7% gap between men and women when it comes to religious affiliation….

… that was discussed recently in an ARIS poll. Earlier, I had pointed to Stephanie Zvan’s comments on this, and now I see that Pandagon is all over it too. I just hope the ladies at Pandagon don’t just buy the bill of goods or fall for the old snake oil routine or anything.

Comments

  1. #1 mk
    September 24, 2009

    7%? That’s it? What’s the margin of error?

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    September 24, 2009

    Pretty big sample, which is why this survey’s gotten a lot of attention. Margin of error less than 1%.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    September 24, 2009

    The sampling error for the full sample comparison (from which the 7% number is estimated) is 0.31%. The sampling error for comparisons within the “NONE” subset (which is obviously smaller) is 2.38%

    The total survey sample N is 54,461.

  4. #4 Eileen
    September 25, 2009

    I think Micheal Shermer addressed this in “Why People Believe Weird Things.” It’s been awhile, but I think the gist was that women are more likely to believe in prophecy, astrology, fortune telling, etc., while men tended towards conspiracy theories, big foot, and alien invasions.

    Perhaps if you included the male religious with the male conspiracy theorists, you would find the margin of stupidty between the sexes shrink considerably.

  5. #5 BKE
    September 25, 2009

    Well, it was a woman who first talked with snakes, right? (The original ‘snake oil’!)

  6. #6 John Swindle
    September 25, 2009

    Years ago, when I was a theist, I noticed that more women than men attended the religious events that I went to. I thought it confirmed my assumption that women are more upright than men. It goes hand-in-hand with my completely unscientific observation that most rowdy behavior comes from men, most criminals are men, most jerks are men. People usually behave in ways they consider proper, if not burdened with a Y-chromosome. I’m surprised it’s only 7%.

  7. #7 k
    September 25, 2009

    John Swindle: my completely unscientific observation that most rowdy behavior comes from men, most criminals are men, most jerks are men

    They are indeed, but it’s no mystery why jerks tend to be male – or perhaps rather, why men tend to be bigger jerks than women. Men are under more pressure to be assertive, strong, confident, leading, authoritative etc. Which is a very small step away from being an overbearing jerk.

    Women are under more pressure to be submissive, dependent, to subdue their intellect and their passions etc.

    So if atheism is a position both of reason and emotional strength (at least in a theistic society) it’s not surprising that women are more superstitious.

    I wonder which is easier to defeat – subtle pervasive sexism or gibbering religion?

  8. #8 daedalus2u
    September 25, 2009

    I think the effect is real and reflects actual differences in physiology which I will try to explain (briefly and simplistically). This relates to my work on autism and NO and relates to the gender differences observed in the incidence of autism. I am not putting a value judgment on this difference. As I understand it, the increased ability of females to be social comes at the cost of being more susceptible to socially mediated persuasion. Resistance to “peer pressure” is (I think) one of the major features of being on the autism spectrum.

    Fundamentally I think it relates to different basal NO levels. The estrogen receptor causes activation of nitric oxide synthase and premenopausal women have higher basal NO levels (on average) than do men. This is reflected in their reduced susceptibility to cardiovascular disease.

    Many social neural pathways use NO as a neurotransmitter, for example oxytocin. High NO levels tend to facilitate social neuronal activity. The archetypal social activity (maternal bonding) is mediated by NO. If nitric oxide synthase is blocked, ewes do not bond to their lambs. If NOS is blocked and NO is supplied, they do. Maternal bonding uses NO as a mediating agent so that the fidelity of that bonding can be coupled to energy status. Lactation is so energy intensive that the fidelity of bonding must be coupled to energy status.

    As the smaller gender, females are forced to act like George Bernard Shaw’s “reasonable man” and conform themselves to the world, or be killed by those males whose world they do not conform to. I think this is the basis for Stockholm Syndrome. The woman (Jaycee Dugard) who was recently released from 18 years of captivity and reportedly has “mixed” feelings about it and her captors is an example of this (I think).

    I don’t think it at all has to do with being more gullible or stupid. I think it is specifically about women having been selected for believing what men say. How many children have been born because a woman believed what a “player” told her? That selects for men who are good at lying and women who are good at believing the lies that such men tell them. Given that the religions under discussion are patriarchal, it makes sense that women would be more “religious”. That the apparent difference is only 7% I find remarkable. It must be really detrimental for a woman to believe a “player”.

  9. #9 MadScientist
    September 25, 2009

    My guess would be “more easily victimized by religion as a child”, but who knows.

  10. #10 DRK
    September 25, 2009

    Recently there was a paper published in Evolutionary Psychology showing a correlation between a nation’s degree of economic and social insecurity and its degree of religiosity; the US has a high rate of both, for instance.

    http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf

    In general, women experience more poverty and economic instability than men. Perhaps they are more religious than men as a result.

  11. #11 kaberi
    September 25, 2009

    Sample size looks pretty big but was it done within the USA only! I think culture plays a big role and also the upbringing… if you are brought up as a subdued, submissive girl and then even when you are an adult, you have harder time to get out of the fear of not to believe in some super power to control you. Perhaps that is why you see a lot of women who are successful in life and well of economically still believe in some form of GOD! And it is vary between culture as I said before. My unscientific example comes from India… In South India you see lot more men are religious than in North or East and it does not matter what socio-economic or educational background you come from!

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    September 25, 2009

    Sample size looks pretty big but was it done within the USA only! … It ain’t called the “American Religious Identification Survey” for nothin!

  13. #13 Jason Failes
    September 25, 2009

    The bigger question is why *any* women at all are religious, given the treatment they are given in the major monotheistic religions.

    I can see why a person would follow a religion that gave them an advantage over others in society, but to follow a religion that assigns you sub-human rights? Completely baffling.

  14. #14 daedalus2u
    September 25, 2009

    Jason, all top-down control hierarchies give those few at the top an advantage over all of the many below them.

  15. #15 Jake
    September 25, 2009

    Did the survey control for other demographic factors? I think things like anxiety and poverty tend to correlate with higher degrees of religiosity, so I wonder if this difference can’t just be accounted for by the fact that women are more likely to be poor and have more to be anxious about.

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