March 18, 2007

· Gender · Sociology

Tyler Cowen asks,

So why are women more religious than men? Is it just greater risk-aversion?

According to my colleague Louise Roth, in an article from the current ASR co-authored with Jeff Kroll, the answer to the second question is, “No.” Here’s the abstract:

Scholars of religion have long known that women are more religious than men, but they disagree about the reasons underlying this difference. Risk preference theory suggests that gender gaps in religiosity are a consequence of men’s greater propensity to take risks, and that irreligiosity is analogous to other high-risk behaviors typically associated with young men. Yet, research using risk preference theory has not effectively distinguished those who perceive a risk to irreligiousness from those who do not. In this article, we evaluate risk preference theory. We differentiate those who believe in an afterlife, who perceive a risk to irreligiousness, from nonbelievers who perceive no risk associated with the judgment after death. Using General Social Survey and World Values Survey data, multivariate models test the effects of gender and belief on religiousness. In most religions and nations the gender gap is larger for those who do not believe in an afterlife than for those who do, contradicting the predictions of risk preference theory. The results clearly demonstrate that the risk preference thesis is not a compelling explanation of women’s greater average religiosity.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.

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