Gender Differences in Religiosity Among U.S. Elites

Check out the graph below:

Schnabel_final color

The data come from a 2016 study on the religiosity of high-earning men and women. The author explains,

Among high earners, women are no more religious than men. High-earning men are just as likely as high-earning women to be religiously affiliated, to pray daily, to identify as a strong member of their religion, and to attend religious services weekly. This convergence occurs because the relationship between earnings and religiosity operates differently for women and men. High-earning women are consistently less religious than low-earning women, and high-earning men are consistently more religious than low-earning men.

Why is this the case?:

One likely explanation is the gendered norms around work and family in family-centric congregations. Previous research has shown that even progressive congregations still value and provide services around the assumption of a 1950s family with a bread-winning father and a stay-at-home mother. Therefore, high-earning men may receive positive validation from family-centric religious congregations and identities because they are fulfilling their “proper” role as providers for their family (and are seen as important congregation members with leadership potential). High-earning women, however, may receive less validation than women who are perceived as less career oriented and more family oriented. In fact, women with high-powered careers may feel marginalized when many “women’s activities” are centered on homemaking and scheduled during the work day.

Although scholars have come up with complex explanations for why women are more religious than men, the difference may simply be due to social expectations and social benefits. People may expect women, who are also expected to fill caring roles in their family and in society, to be more religious. These expectations could be especially strong in Christian contexts where religion is associated with family-centrism and sympathy (gender gaps in religiosity are usually smaller or non-existent in non-Christian religions). Relatedly, it is possible that the average woman simply gets more out of Christianity than the average man (e.g., opportunities to socialize outside the home, existential security, etc.). Among high earners, however, women may no longer get more out of religion than men.

Regardless of exactly why earning more money means something different depending on whether you’re a man or woman, there are no gender differences in religiosity among high earners, and differences among women and men are just as large as the average differences between them. Therefore, gender differences in religiosity shouldn’t be reduced to sex categories and hormones.