What do the 2021 National Church Life Survey (2021 NCLS) results say about the gender distribution in churches?
The National Census run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2021, found that 51% of Australians are female and 49% are male. In contrast, the 2021 NCLS results show there are more women than men in Australian churches (61% female vs 39% male). This finding was no surprise. NCLS Research has seen this gender distribution in every Australian National Church Life Survey since 1991.
Across the globe in most cultures and religious traditions, women tend to be more spiritual or religious than men. They are more likely to pray, to say that faith is important and to attend worship.
Many theories have been offered by sociologists and others as to why this is the case. One explanation is that women live longer than men on average and churches have an older age profile. However, males were under-represented , even if only to a small degree, in every age group in the 2021 NCLS—from eight year-olds to the oldest attenders.
Where do we see differences and similarities between women and men in churches?
First, women are less likely to be the senior leader of a local church. Some 22% of local senior leaders were women, and these were most likely to be found in Pentecostal churches, followed by mainstream Protestant churches. (This is based on 2016 NCLS Leader results, and will be updated when possible).
Second, leadership and ministry roles within churches also differ by gender. From the 2021 NCLS, we found that women are more likely to be involved in children's ministry, music, small group leadership and pastoral care roles.
They are less likely to do teaching and preaching, or to be on the council or board or to be an elder or deacon.
However, when it comes to attitudes and experience of church life, there are more often similarities than differences. For example, there is little to no difference between men and women when asked if they:
While women continue to be over-represented in Australian churches and often hold different roles, the 2021 NCLS also shows that men and women who are engaged in church life have similar attitudes about some aspects of church life.
Watch this brief video presentation on the gender mix of Australian churchgoers, from the webinar "Who's in the Pews?".
2021 National Church Life Survey by NCLS Research and 2021 Census of Population and Housing by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
Confident and gifted young women willing yet under-involved in Catholic parishes
A research project into the nature and prevalence of family violence in faith communities