Women tend to be more religious than men. Some sociologists have argued that traditional female roles explain why this is and this post examines and evaluates some of these ‘social role theory’ explanations for this trend in gender and religion.
Characteristics of the traditional female gender role (or traditional femininity) include being nurturing, caring, emotional, intuitive, passive and submissive.
Many religions, especially Catholicism and Islam, stress that the ideal woman would take on all of the above characteristics, and willingly take up the role of ‘primary carer’ within the family, supporting husband and children through providing love and support and being a ‘home-maker’.
If women do accept these roles, then religion can act as a source of guidance, comfort and reward, so ‘role theory’ in itself might go some way to explaining the higher level sof religiosity among women.
Women’s traditional role as the main child carers within the family means they are primarily responsible for the primary socialization of children. They might find religion appealing because it offers moral guidance to children ‘from above’, thus making their job as ‘enforcers of behavior’ easier.
The traditional female role also places women as the primary ‘end of life’ carers: caring for the sick and the elderly. This means they experience death more often and more directly than men. Thus they might be more religious because religion offers them a source of comfort or explanation when dealing with death.
Finally, the classical Feminist line on this, as theorized by Simone de Beauvoir, is that religion simply compensates women for their second class status. Women have less status than men, so they turn to religion for comfort (albeit a false comfort which reinforces their second class status).
Limitations of ‘Traditional Gender Role Theory’ in explaining why women are more religious than men
Women’s higher levels of religiosity could be due to different age profiles: women live longer than men, and older people are more religious than younger people.
Also, it doesn’t explain the higher levels of religiosity among women who don’t accept traditional feminine roles. Most members of the New Age Movement are female, and very few accept traditional, hegemonic prescriptions of femininity.