Studies suggest that men are more attracted to religion when it is compatible with their reproductive goals

Religion can play a large role in many people’s lives, but it often benefits men more than women. A new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society suggests that men in countries with higher levels of gender equality are less religious.

There are significant gender disparities in religiosity around the world, with women generally being more prone to stronger religious beliefs. This is believed to be partly due to women’s greater capacity for empathy and mentalization. Despite this, organized religion often involves practices that are beneficial to men but harmful to women.

The cultural context and norms about sexism can play an important role in religious beliefs. The authors of the new study hypothesized that religion might be a useful social influence tool for men in societies with a lower degree of gender equality, while religion might be less attractive in countries with a higher degree of gender equality.

“One of my interests is how people use religion to achieve their goals, and often those goals are related to mating,” said study author Jordan Moon, a graduate student at Arizona State University. “For example, attitudes toward family and sexuality (eg, rejection of sexual promiscuity) are fairly consistent predictors of religiosity across cultures, and some evidence suggests that people are attracted to religion in part because it advances their goals in this way .”

“From this perspective, it is interesting to think about how and why religious beliefs and behaviors differ across cultures. A consistent finding across religious studies is that women tend to be more religious than men, although the magnitude of this difference varies and there are some cultures where this is not the case. Yet religions often have patriarchal traits, rituals, or norms that restrict or punish women more than men, so it’s kind of odd that women are so consistently more religious. My co-authors and I thought it would be interesting to explore how these effects differ in different contexts.”

“We chose gender equality as a contextual influence because of several recent findings called the ‘gender equality paradox’ – sometimes the gaps between men and women are larger in countries with greater gender equality, which is the opposite of which many would expect,” Moon told PsyPost. “Our logic in this research has been whether the patriarchal aspects of religion are part of what draws men to religion (or how they use religion to achieve their goals), and whether gender equality makes these rituals more difficult or to enforce norms, religion might be less attractive to men (compared to women) in more gender-equal societies.”

Moon and his colleagues used data from the World Values ​​Survey and the European Values ​​Survey. This resulted in very large sample sizes of up to 125,593 participants in 74 countries. They measured religious attendance, frequency of prayer, religious affiliation, and attitudes toward casual and premarital sex. In addition, they used a measure that assesses four components of gender equality for different countries: economic empowerment, education, political empowerment, and health/survival.

Results showed that increased gender equality was associated with fewer religious beliefs and behaviors among men. In women, this effect was smaller and not as consistent across cultures. While increased gender equality was associated with lower religious attendance among men, this outcome was not observed among women. This means that in countries with higher levels of gender equality, the gap between men’s and women’s religious practices is widest.

“Results were particularly strong when it came to religious attendance; In all of these models, there was a consistent negative relationship between gender equality and religion attendance for men, but no effect for women. “Apparent religious involvement may allow men to monitor women more easily, monitor sexual behavior, or signal their worth as partners through religious commitment.”

“I think the main point of the paper is to emphasize that context is important,” Moon explained. “Religion is not just a symbolic thing, but actually has many secular functions – it is sensitive to ‘facts on the ground’. So it shouldn’t be surprising that people turn to religion when they have certain needs, or that they find religion less appealing when they need to meet their needs in other ways.”

This study shows the negative association between gender equality and religiosity in men, but cannot speak to the mechanisms causing this association. The authors suggest that this could be because men in more religious societies use religion as a sign of virtue, or because countries with higher gender equality face fewer threats. Addressing the underlying causes of this pattern would require further research.

“The biggest caveat is that this data is correlated, so we can’t make causal claims,” ​​Moon said. “Our perspective is based on the notion that people are more likely to engage in religion when it aligns with their goals, and that these different contexts (i.e., different levels of gender equality) can make religion more or less attractive to people with these goals.”

“However, I’m sure many people will find it more plausible that the effect goes the other way, that religion reduces (or slows down) gender equality,” the researcher said. “It’s certainly possible, and I’d bet the implications go both ways – people make decisions about their beliefs within these different cultural contexts, and citizens’ actions also affect gender equality in a country.” However, religions are often constrained by the broader cultural context (especially in places of religious diversity). Beliefs and rituals have to be palatable to enough people to thrive, so I suspect religions will often make changes to remain attractive to as many people as possible.”

The study “Men Are Less Religious in Countries With More Gender Equality” was authored by Jordan W. Moon, Adam E. Tratner and Melissa M. McDonald.

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