A graceful day for His Grace
Are women more religious than men?
More women attend church than men
Desmond O’Donnell OMI says research has shown that women’s recognition of interdependence makes them more inclined towards religion than men more women attend church but are women more religious?
A recent survey* of third level educated young Irish adults between the ages of 20 and 35 provides data showing that their religious beliefs seem to be of a higher quality than those of men and that they have more demanding moral standards. It also shows that they tend to be more relational.
If authentic faith is the quality of one’s relationship with God and with others, it seems that this stronger orientation which women have towards relationships makes them more religious and more moral.
This Irish survey suggests that the religious edge which women seem to have is based on their marked orientation towards inter-dependence. The survey results confirm that women are more comfortable in relationships.
It showed that mothers massively outweighed fathers in their ability to communicate love to their children in early life and even as young adults. Mother’s love was perceived to be strong or very strong by 93 per cent of the respondents while fathers’ love received support from 78 per cent.
This difference also showed up around communication. Seventy-one per cent said they could communicate easily or very easily with their mothers while only 49 per cent said so regarding their fathers.
Then as adults when asked what would most enhance their lives 57 per cent of young women said friendship and a loving marriage relationship, while only 43 per cent of young men said so.
When asked about their experience of God, women scored higher than men on peace, trust, joy, being loved and on giving love, while men scored higher on doubt, anxiety and fear. While just 52 per cent of men surveyed say that they have a personal relationship with Christ, 63 per cent of women say so.
In his 1925 monograph on women, Sigmund Freud concluded that women “show less sense of justice than men, that they are less ready to submit to the great exigencies of life and that they are more often influenced in their judgments by feelings of affection and hostility”.
In more recent years Laurence Kohlberg published his findings on moral development. Carol Gilligan then produced evidence that as far as Kohlberg’s research went ‘females simply do not exist’.
After producing interview data neglected by Kohlberg, Gilligan writes: “Since women define their identity through relationships of intimacy and care, the moral decisions they make are motivated differently than those of men.”
Asked in the survey why they act morally, 70 per cent of women said they did so because it means being true to themselves.
Only 61 per cent of men offered the same reason. Women also experience healthy guilt more frequently. Fifteen per cent of the men said they never feel guilt but only four per cent of women said so.
Women’s relational orientation as stressed by Gilligan emerged clearly in Irish women’s definition of ‘sin’. Forty nine per cent of these women and only 32 per cent of men defined sin as hurting others. Again women regard sexual intercourse more seriously than men do; 53 per cent of women regard it as a sign of total and final commitment while only 30 per cent of men think so.
It was defined by 16 per cent as just a bit of fun; only three per cent of women agreed with this. Sixty-one per cent of single men said they were sexually active (Are they boasting?) and only 46 per. cent of women said so.
Women favour deeper commitment in marriage with 79 per cent saying that marriage should last until the death of a partner while only 67 per cent of men thought so.
Finally the survey asked respondents to rate 28 generally accepted immoral behaviours in terms of seriousness. On 27 of these, women demanded higher standards than men did.
Women outscored men on the quality of belief in the supernatural – 62 per cent of young Irish women and 57 per cent of men are sure that there is life after death.
Fewer young men (58 per cent) believe that Christ is divine than women (66 per cent).
Forty five per cent of women pray each day against 32 per cent of men who do so. When it comes to religious behaviour a similar pattern is seen; 58 per cent of these young women go to weekly Mass and 41 per cent of men do so.
Gilligan shows that the female personality defines itself more in terms of connection and continuity with others, while the masculine personality does so more in terms of separation and discontinuity.
The man’s model is generally based on logical, hierarchical judgment while for woman compassion in the sense of feeling with others seems to be the norm. Men fear being caught in the web and women fear being stranded at the edge. Men’s social orientation is positional while women’s is personal.
This may explain women’s higher moral demands. It seems that moral standards and behaviour flow best from relationships.
Jesus said: “If you love me you will keep my commandment” (Jn 14.15).
A rabbi once told me that growth in their relationship with God for modern young Jews will depend on whether emphasis can be moved from Sinai to Exodus.
Explaining it, he said that Modernity and Post Modernity tend to dismantle hierarchy and stress freedom. He saw a need to move from emphasis on the direct presentation of detailed moral imperatives – Sinai – to God’s liberating love in the Exodus story.
In Novo Millennio Inuente the Pope too said that it would be a mistake to reduce Christianity to morality.
Women’s voices coming from relationally -oriented hearts have much wisdom to offer society and the Church. The results of this survey may be alerting the Church to the need for stressing still more that religion is primarily a relationship and only consequentially obedience to laws or fidelity to regular worship.
A good relationship with God and with others can provide the best motivation for doing the right thing and celebrating it.
Reprinted from The Irish Catholic