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Survey: State of the Church Series, 2011: 20 Years of Surveys Show Key Differences in the Faith of America’s Men and Women
An analysis of national tracking surveys conducted over a 20-year period by the Barna Group profiles specific differences between the genders in relation to 14 religious beliefs and behaviors of significance. The report is the third in a series of six that constitute the annual State of the Church report released by the Barna Group.
From the survey summary:
It’s hardly news that men and women think and behave differently. But a new analysis of national tracking surveys conducted over a 20-year period by the Barna Group profiles specific differences between the genders in relation to 14 religious beliefs and behaviors of significance. The report is the third in a series of six that constitute the annual State of the Church report released by the Barna Group. This year’s report became public simultaneous to the release of the latest trends book by author and researcher George Barna, entitled Futurecast.
Women and Faith No population group among the sixty segments examined has gone through more spiritual changes in the past two decades than women. Of the 14 religious factors studied, women have experienced statistically significant changes related to 10 of them. Of those transitions, eight represent negative movement – that is, either less engagement in common religious behaviors or a shift in belief away from biblical teachings.
Five of the six religious behaviors tracked showed significant change.
Church attendance among women sank by 11 percentage points since 1991, declining to 44%. A majority of women no longer attend church services during a typical week.
Bible reading has plummeted by 10 percentage points, declining from half of all women reading the Bible during a typical week (excluding that done during church events) to just four out of ten doing so today (40%).
Sunday school involvement is less common among women these days, down seven points from the 24% mark noted in 1991.
Women have traditionally been the backbone of volunteer activity in churches. However, there has been a nine point slide in the percentage of women helping out at a church during any given week. That drop reflects a 31% reduction in the non-paid female work force at churches.
The only religious behavior that increased among women in the last 20 years was becoming unchurched. That rose a startling 17 percentage points – among the largest drops in church attachment identified in the research.
The only religious behavior tracked among women that stayed stable was the percentage who attended a church of 600 or more people, which has remained at 16%.
Although the core beliefs of women have undergone comparatively less turbulence, five of the eight beliefs tracked registered significant change.
Women are six percentage points less likely to say their religious faith is very important to them than they were in 1991. Even so, nearly two-thirds of them (63%) hold their faith in high regard.
When it comes to views on the devil, women are five percentage points less likely to write off Satan as merely a symbol of evil. Sixty-one-percent did so in 1991, but that has been reduced to 56% now.
Perceptions of the reliability of the Bible have taken a hit, as the percentage of women who firmly believe the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches has declined by seven percentage points to 42%.
An even larger drop has occurred in the proportion of women who possess an orthodox view of God. Those who contend that God is the “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” has slumped from 80% in 1991 to 70% today.
The percentage of women whose beliefs qualify them to be classified as born again Christians has risen significantly in the past 20 years. In 1991, 38% of woman said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that remained important in their life, and also said they believed they would go to Heaven after they died solely because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Since then, the figure has increased slightly to 44%.
Rodney Stark, a professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, doesn't buy it. At least not yet. "There are all kinds of polls asking about religious stuff. There is the General Social Survey which has been asking religious questions every year since 1972. Why not go in there and see if you can replicate the findings?" Stark said. "We haven't had time to do that yet, but we will. And I would just be absolutely shocked if Barna's findings held up."
Stark suspects Barna's results could be an accidental difference — mere random variation. "When you are dealing with surveys you are dealing with probabilities of the statistic moving no more than four or five points up and down — but sometimes it does. And if you keep looking around you will find sometimes that two surveys show quite a big difference," Stark said. "And then you run to the press."
Stark also said he would like to see Barna's data trends charted over a series of years — not just a 20-year difference.