Not since Madalyn Murray O’Hair has the image of non-religiosity been defined by a woman. That may change with Generation Z.
A new analysis of data by sociologist Ryan P. Burge finds that, among people born after the year 2000, known as Gen Z, more women than men identify with no organized religion. The Zoomer “Nones” are predominantly female, something we never saw in earlier generations.
Writing for Christianity Today, Burge notes that women have historically been more religious than men. That’s finally changing.
… Survey data from October 2021 found that among those born in 1950, about a quarter of men identified as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular, compared to just 20 percent of women of the same age. That same five-point gap is evident among those born in 1960 and 1970 as well.
For millennials and Generation Z, it’s a different story. Among those born in 1980, the gap begins to narrow to about two percentage points. By 1990, the gap disappears, and with those born in 2000 or later, women are clearly more likely to be nones than men.
Among 18- to 25-year-olds, 49 percent of women are nones, compared to just 46 percent of men.
It’s not just an anomaly either. Younger women, Burge shows, are also less likely to attend church than younger men.
So why is this happening?
There’s no clear-cut answer, but credit may go to churches themselves far more than those of us who try to lead people out of it.
One theory offered in the CT article is that the alpha male approach to Christianity meant to keep men in the fold—the Mark Driscoll approach, if you will—is inadvertently causing women to run the hell out the door. (Can’t blame them.)
We can get more specific, though. The broader evangelical/Baptist/Catholic worlds are not just not safe spaces for many women. At the very least, they keep women in a very tiny box when it comes to what they’re allowed to do and how they’re supposed to act.
There’s the inherent sexism associated with Purity Culture.
There are the policy positions held by many conservative religious leaders that disproportionately hurt women—including abortion restrictions and possible contraception bans.
There’s the disrespect shown to prominent female preachers like Beth Moore when they challenge traditions.
There are the limitations on what roles women can have in church, ranging from formal bans on the priesthood down to unofficial rules saying they can’t lead.
And that’s before we get to all the other reasons people are leaving churches in general: They’re overly political, too boring, completely irrelevant, and do far more harm than good.
To be clear, the numbers show that women in Gen Z are leaving organized religion. The inherent sexism of many religious groups is pushing women out of churches. But that doesn’t mean they’re becoming non-religious, much less atheists. (The informal “atheist community” has long been criticized for not being a welcome place for women.)
The question becomes whether any of these religious groups will change their ways in order to reverse the trend. Hard to imagine they’re going to turn their back on tradition after doubling down on it, to their detriment, for this long.