Think of traditional, organised religion, and women probably aren’t the first thing to come to mind. Most major faiths have male gods, male prophets, and male clergy. Many of them also restrict the freedoms of women in ways that don’t apply to men.
Yet throughout the world, women are more likely to be religious. In fact, this norm is so universal that some social scientists have suggested that women are biologically wired to be more pious and devoted than men.
In case you’re not convinced, a few statistics. 59% of American women say that religion is very important in their lives, compared to 47% of American men. 87% of women are absolutely or fairly certain that they believe in God, compared to 78% of men. 40% of women attend religious services weekly, compared to 31% of men.
Of course, the US is predominantly Christian, and differences between faiths exist: for example, Muslim men typically attend more services than Muslim women, even though Muslim women score higher on all other metrics of religiosity.
This difference is something we see at Swan, too, with religious (and particularly Christian) women outnumbering religious men by some distance. But the causes of the underlying sex difference have been the subject of lively debate amongst researchers. Here are just a few of the theories about why men and women seem to differ in their religiosity:
All these explanations (and many others) suggest that a self-reinforcing circle is created in which women become more religious, and the typically patriarchal structure of religions encourage the traits (such as submissiveness, altruism, and low risk tolerance) that made women more religious in the first place.
Some researchers, however, have suggested that the answer for gender differences in religion lies in biology rather than society, asserting that female humans are genetically hardwired to be more religious than men for an unspecified evolutionary reason.
Interestingly, at least one study has found that gay men are – like straight women – far more likely to be religious than straight men (or lesbian women), with bisexual people about as religious as lesbians (i.e. less than straight women).
As we touched on above, not all religions or cultures see an equally drastic split in religiosity between men and women. Countries with greater equality between the sexes tend to see even larger differences in religious faith, even when taking into account country-level wealth, religious affiliation, the moralisation of sexuality, age, and education level. Women in gender-equal countries are also less religious than in unequal countries, but by a smaller amount than for men. There is even some evidence that in countries with particularly high fertility rates – often associated with less liberalism and more traditional gender roles – gender differences in religion are smallest.
This does suggest that socialisation might not be the only factor accounting for the gender differences in faith – or that if it is, the socialisation is so universal that it might make sense to call it biological regardless.
But what effect does religion have when it comes to romantic choices?
As part of the Swan sign-up process, we ask two questions about religious faith. One is to find out whether someone is religious at all, and if so which faith they follow, if any. The second is to find out how important their religious faith (or lack thereof) is to them. We also encourage people to tell us about any romantic dealbreakers they have, such as dating outside their own religion.
This helps us match people based on their dispositions and views: if one person is agnostic, but doesn’t consider that particularly important, they’re eligible to be matched with most other people who use Swan. But if someone is (for example) Jewish and only comfortable dating other Jewish people, we’re not going to match them with, say, a committed Muslim.
Dating outside your own faith isn’t just a matter of different viewpoints, or even culture. In some faiths, it’s expected that parents will play a significant role in shaping life with your significant other – and dating might even be banned until a certain age, or require chaperones. Even within a single faith, different denominations or sects can call for different wedding ceremonies, different commitments about raising children, and different dietary or lifestyle requirements.
Despite the challenges, in the US about one in five people are raised by mixed-religion parents. The numbers are very similar in the UK, and seem to be increasing.
28.6% of Swan’s membership identifies with a specific religious faith, with a further 17.4% identifying as spiritual but not religious (and the remainder split evenly between agnosticism and atheism).
We make matches both between and within faiths, depending on members’ preferences, and are keen to hear about how your own faith – or atheism/agnosticism – has coloured your romantic experiences. If you’d like to share your story with us, get in touch at email@example.com.
For more on faith and romance, take a look at our interview with the couples who wait until marriage to have sex.