Social Indicators Research

, Volume 147, Issue 1, pp 287–310 | Cite as

Preferences or Patriarchy: Why Do Religious Women Work Less?

  • Lewis DavisEmail author
  • Jia Gao
Original Research


Religious women work less than their non-religious counterparts. Is this because they want to work less or because patriarchal social norms limit their choices? To address this question, we estimate the employment happiness premium, which we define as the happiness gain associated with being employed, for men and women belonging to six world religions and for the non-religious. Our results indicate that the employment happiness premium is higher for men than for women for every world religion and that the gender gap in the employment happiness premium varies significantly across religions. Next, we ask whether the gender gap in the employment happiness premium can explain the gender gap in employment. That is, is it plausible that preferences explain employment patterns across religions and genders? We find that preferences plausibly explain the gender employment gap for Buddhists, Orthodox Christians, and the non-religious. In contrast, they explain less than half the observed gender employment gap for Hindus, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants. Our findings are consistent with a significant role for patriarchal social norms in constraining female employment in these religious traditions.


Happiness Religion Gender inequality Employment Gender division of labor Subjective well-being Patriarchy 

JEL Classification

D60 I31 Z12 J20 



We wish to thank Roger Hoerl, Lori Marso, Ann Owen, Steven Schmidt and participants in the Symposium on Religion, Social Conflict and Social Cohesion, the Union College Economics Seminar, and the Southern Economic Association Meetings for useful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Any remaining errors are our own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUnion CollegeSchenectadyUSA

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