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Gender Gap in Church Persists; Worse among Evangelicals

Gender ratio congregationsThe marriage market is a subject of much hand-wringing among American adults, with talk of “settling,” biological clocks, and substandard men peppering our national conversations on marriage. Religious Americans, who remain among the most committed to the idea of married life, are hardly immune to the national rise in age-at-marriage. Even evangelical Protestants are marrying later than imagined, only about a year earlier than the national median of 29 for men and 27 for women.

Part of the problem may reside in the gender imbalance in American congregations, also a subject of much chatter, analysis, and innovation. New data analyses of over 64,000 adult respondents to the US Congregational Life Survey reveal that previous estimates of a 3-to-2 female-to-male ratio in the pews remain largely unchanged, but that the disparity varies notably by age. The sex-ratio imbalance among 18-29-year-olds in America’s congregations mirrors that in its universities: 57% of pew-sitters—and college students—are women, while 43% are men. According to both academic and popular accounts, such disparities on campus tend not to spell optimal relationship outcomes for women.

The gender gap is even more pronounced among evangelical Protestants, historically among traditional marriage’s biggest backers.gender ratios evangelicals The disparity in the 20s is slightly worse in evangelical congregations, where 59% of never-married churchgoers are women. In their 30s, however, the chasm widens, with men comprising only 27% of never-married evangelical churchgoers.

Such a phenomenon is thought to create a distressing “double bind” among evangelical (as well as other) women who wish to marry: balancing the desire to locate a man of comparable faith—and feeling external pressure to do so—but facing increasingly tall odds of finding such a mate in their own or similar congregations.

 

NOTE: While notable for its large size, the US Congregational Survey is not a nationally-representative study of all American churchgoers. However, participating congregations were asked to randomly sample their congregations. The results are believed to be representative of worshipers and congregations in participating denominations.

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The Austin Institute is a team of scholars dedicated to social science research of the family, marriage, and contemporary relationships.