Why are Women
More Religious than Men?
Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce
Oxford University Press £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50 (Use voucher code
THE aim of this book is
straightforward. It gathers together the available evidence on the
differ-ences between men and women in terms of their religious
lives, and seeks to find explanations for these data. It is well
known that women are more religious than men on a wide range of
indicators (practice, belief, self-understanding, propensity to
prayer, etc.). Why is this so?
The data include facts and
figures from the mainstream Christian groups, alternative forms of
religion (new religious movements, the New Age, spiritualities of
various kinds), and other faith communities (both in Europe and
beyond). That said, most of the material comes from the
(post-)industrial West, on the grounds that only here is religion
sufficiently distinct as a category for individuals of either
gender to be aware of their own religiousness.
To account for the
difference between men and women, Trzebiatowska and Bruce adopt
what is now a well-known division between explanations that depend
on nature and those that tend towards nurture. They are strongly in
favour of the latter. Different propensities towards religion are
not to be found in the biological make-up of men and women, but in
the social roles that societies continue to impose on people of
different genders, noting in particular the woman's role of carer
(notably of the very young and the very old).
Other factors - for example,
attitudes to self-sufficiency and to bodily and mental health -
reinforce these patterns, leading to what the authors call the "sum
of small differences" that together account for the variations in
the data. All of this, however, is trumped by the continuing
process of secularisation - an abiding theme in the work of Bruce.
This means that whatever differences can be discerned at present
will, in the long-term, diminish as both men and women become more
secular. Currently, men are more affected by this process than
Most scholars of religion
would agree regarding the nature/nurture distinction, with which
they are already familiar; they might, however, nuance it
differently. Fewer would acknowledge the dominance of
secularisation. Most of all, however, such scholars would question
some of the omissions in this text, which draws on established
ideas, but fails to acknowledge their authorship. They, like me,
will know who they are.
This leads me to a more
general point. This volume is essentially a review of the
literature in an important field. Such a review requires two
things: a detailed index, and a consolidated list of references.
This book has neither. Take, for example, the Ws in the index.
There are four references to Bryan Wilson, who, to my knowledge,
has never written anything on gender; there is no reference to
Linda Woodhead, a prominent scholar in this field. She is there, in
both text and footnotes; so why not in the index? Her views on
secularisation are, of course, different from those of the authors,
but her explanations why women are more religious anticipate much
of what is said here - all the more reason to bring her work into
the foreground and debate the implications.
Dr Grace Davie is a
Professor Emeritus in the University of Exeter.