March 22, 2016

The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World

1. Women more likely than men to affiliate with a religion

The first indicator of religious commitment examined in this study is religious affiliation, that is, whether people report identifying with a faith group. Among women and men ages 20 and older, 83.4% of women and 79.9% of men across 192 countries and territories are religiously affiliated, according to estimates made for Pew Research Center’s 2015 report “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections 2010-2015.”13

In about a third of the 192 countries (61), women are at least 2 percentage points more likely than men to have a religious affiliation. In the remaining countries (131), women and men are about equally likely to affiliate with a religious group. In 83 of the 131 countries, more than 98% of both men and women identify with a religious group, making affiliation nearly universal with little room for any gender gap.14 Notably, there are no countries in which men are more religiously affiliated than women by 2 percentage points or more.

Women more likely than men to be affiliated

Religiously affiliated more likely to be femaleThe distribution of men and women varies within different religious groups. Women are slightly more numerous among Buddhists (54%), Christians (53%) and Jews (52%). Women are slightly less prevalent among Hindus (49%) and adherents of traditional or folk religions (49%).15

Around the world, men markedly outnumber women (55% vs. 45%) among religiously unaffiliated populations, which include atheists, agnostics and people who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”

While it is possible to measure lack of religious affiliation using censuses and large-scale demographic surveys, these sources do not generally include “atheist” as a response category in religion questions. Additionally, in many countries there are too few atheists in general population surveys to reliably analyze the characteristics of atheists. However, Pew Research Center has collected sufficient data to analyze the gender composition of people who self-identify as atheists in eight countries: Australia, the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, Spain, the United States and Uruguay.16

Atheists more likely to be men in several countriesMore than two-in-three atheists are men in the United States (68%) and Uruguay (69%). Men also represent a clear majority of the atheist population in Germany (62%) and Spain (61%). However, in France, China, Australia and the United Kingdom, the gender gap among atheists is smaller (and not statistically significant). Across all eight countries, the average share of atheists who are male is 59% if the atheist numbers from each country are given equal value.17

  1. Except for the discussion of atheists, the affiliation analysis in this chapter is based on respondents ages 20 and older; it computes population-weighted averages (that is, the population size of each country is considered when computing individual country and global affiliation averages). The analyses of atheist affiliation and for all other measures of religious commitment in this report are based on adults ages 18 and older and countries are weighted equally, regardless of population size, when computing averages.
  2. Generally, there tends to be a gender gap in affiliation when a considerable share of a country’s population is unaffiliated. There are 61 countries that have gender gaps in affiliation of at least 2 percentage points; in 43 of them (including the United States) at least 10% of the population is unaffiliated. However, among the 131 countries where there is an affiliation gender gap of less than 2 percentage points, in only four (Russia, France, Vietnam and Mongolia) is at least 10% of the population unaffiliated. In these four nations, however, the differences between men and women in affiliation do not reach the threshold of 2 percentage points.
  3. Examples of traditional or folk religions include African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions.
  4. The atheist share of these samples was 23% in France, 15% in China, 14% in Australia, 14% in the United Kingdom, 13% in Germany, 12% in Spain, 10% in Uruguay and 3% in the United States.
  5. However, when the actual number of atheists in each of the eight countries is taken into account, the average share of atheists who are male drops to 53%, due largely to the influence of China’s considerable population of self-identified atheists.