Gender profile of church attenders

Just as younger people are under-represented in the life of the churches, so too are men. Only 39% of attenders are male.

The gender imbalance can partly be attributed to the fact that some churches have an older age profile and women on average live longer than men. However, although differing life expectancies do play a part, they are not the only reason for the gender skew. In every denomination, in every age grouping, women outnumber men.

The gender imbalance among church attenders is a long-standing issue, and many theories have been developed in an attempt to explain it. These theories, which warrant ongoing testing, are summarised in Who Goes Where? (Kaldor, 1987, 112–116) and include the following:
  • Differences in the ways boys and girls are socialised affect their church involvement. This theory suggests that boys are taught independence and self-reliance, while girls are taught interdependence, obedience and responsibility for others. Consequently, girls are more predisposed to a church involvement which features such behaviour.
  • Australian men are more likely to reject authority structures such as the church. They prefer more egalitarian forms of relationship with others, based around the concept of ‘mateship’.
  • Men are more emotionally inhibited than women. Consequently, this theory would suggest that men are daunted by structures in church life which promote intimacy (eg small groups).
  • Women are more likely to seek to instil moral values in their children as part of their role as child-rearers. Women not only look to the church to provide religious education for their children but also attend church in order to be good role models.
  • Women get social status in church that is denied elsewhere. Some social theorists argue that men and women without power or status in the community are more likely to turn to religion as a form of compensation.
  • Men are more likely to be in full-time work and to get their self-esteem from work. Work provides an alternative sense of purpose, community, identity and interests.
It has been shown that in Australia women engaged in full-time work have the same low church attendance levels as men in full-time work (De Vaus, 1985). This means that as increasing numbers of women participate full-time in the workforce, they could be expected to have reduced levels of church involvement. Therefore, if churches are to address the gender imbalances, they must seek to understand the workplace and find ways to connect with people in it.

Source: Initial Impressions, 2001 NCLS and Taking Stock, 1999

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