More women than men are abandoning church

New Pew Research study shows churchgoing is declining faster among women than among men.Reuters

The number of women attending church is declining faster than the number of men, a new study shows. 

Traditionally, there have been more women in most churches than men, although the balance is more even in evangelical and Baptist churches.

With a few exceptions, most researchers who have looked at the gap from the point of view of why more men do not go to church so there is little data on why women go to church.

While women are more likely than men to say they attend worship services regularly in the US, common in other countries as well, the gender gap is narrowing as more women decide to stay away from Sunday worship, according to the new Pew Research study.

Between 1972 and 1974, nearly four in ten women and three in ten men went to church once a week. The gender gap widened in the 1980s but has been shrinking since the late 1980s, as attendance declined more among women than men.

Now, fewer than three in ten women attend religious services weekly, only slightly more than the numbers of men.

Although men are more likely than women to be classed as "nones" with no religious affiliation,  the rate of growth has been slightly more rapid for women than men. 

U.S. gender gap in religious service attendance narrowed as smaller share of women attend at least once a week

Patricia Miller, writing in Religion Dispatches, says the years that women's church attendance began to decline coincides with when religious leaders in the Catholic Church and the evangelical movement "fused religion with the culture wars".

Women's church attendance did recover somewhat in the early 1990s, but then began a long slide in the mid-1990s that continued to 2012.

"Church attendance for both men and women appears to have bottomed out around the time the sex scandals broke in the Catholic Church in 2001," she adds.

"Women's attendance dropped noticeably between about 2004 and 2012, while men's remained fairly stable. This period saw evangelicals taking an increasingly hard line about traditional 'Catholic' issues like birth control, which may have alienated some women."

She also suggests a link between the decline and the release in 2004 of a document by the cardinal who was soon to become Pope Benedict that was critical of feminism and said women's characteristics were "Listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting".

She adds: "Why have women stopped going to church? It isn't because they're too busy or too well educated. Maybe they stopped going when conservative politics took over the pulpit."