IU study: Religious differences between men and women fade at higher income levels

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Scholars typically agree that women are more religious than men. New Indiana University research shows, however, that there is little difference between women and men who are high earners. When factoring in income, the greater differences in religiosity appear within, not across, genders.

Landon Schnabel, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington, conducted the study, “The Gender Pray Gap: Wage Labor and the Religiosity of High-Earning Women and Men,” to measure differences of religiosity both between high-earning women and men and within genders.

Landon Schnabel

Landon Schnabel

Schnabel’s findings reaffirm scholars’ assumptions that women are more religious than men on all measures and that income is generally associated with less religiosity regardless of gender.

“In my previous research I found that the nonreligious have the most egalitarian gender attitudes and that secularism seems to promote gender equality worldwide. So, I was puzzled by why women seem to be more religious than men,” Schnabel said.

“Scholars have argued that this pattern of women being more religious than men​ is universal and maybe even based on biology. But I suspected that social status and what people get from religion might be important factors that could help explain why women tend to be more religious than men.”

Schnabel goes a step further in his analysis of the 1994-2012 cumulative General Social Survey to find that higher-earning women are less religious than other women across all measures.

Income is strongly related to religiosity of men, too, but the results for men are less clear-cut, Schnabel said. Higher-earning men are more religious than lower-earning men on some measures, but not others.

Comparing these differences within gender explains why differences between women and men shrink at high income levels, Schnabel said.

“Rather than being able to assume that earnings have a similar effect on everyone, we have to think about the different experiences and social norms that men and women face that could make something like work operate differently for them,” Schnabel said.

“Women differ from other women, and men differ from other men, just as much as the two groups differ, on average, from one another,” he said.

Current data and available measures fall short of explaining why the relationship between earnings and religiosity is different for women than for men. Social-psychological identity theories that explain how and why women and men are validated as community or family members might explain the underlying causes of gender differences in religiosity, Schnabel said.

The research reaffirms social location, as opposed to essential gender differences, as an important indicator of religiosity, he said differences exist not only between men and women, but within the gender groups as well.

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