Does religion help or hinder gender equality worldwide? Are some major world religions more conducive to equality than others? This study answers these questions using country-level data assembled from multiple sources. Much of the research on religion and gender has focused on the relationship between individual religious belief and practice and gender attitudes. This study, alternatively, compares the macro effects of the proportion of religious adherents in a country on two indicators of material gender equality: the United Nations Gender Inequality Index and the Social Watch Gender Equity Index. Comparing the world’s four largest religious groups reveals that the largest distinction is not between any of the three largest faiths—Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism—but between the religious and the non-religious. The more non-religious people in a country, the more gender equal that country tends to be. This finding holds when accounting for human development and other country-level factors, as well as in instrumental variable analysis.
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The number of countries used are limited by data availability. Supplemental analyses of the bivariate relationships between religion and the gender indices including countries lost for missing data on control variables yield substantively equivalent results.
Though smaller than the four groups included in the models (all of which have at least one billion adherents), Buddhism and Judaism are often discussed as “major world religions” (Adamczyk and Hayes 2012). Fit statistics using the Bayesian Information Criterion (Raftery 1995) suggest their exclusion. Sensitivity analyses including them in the full model led to non-significant Jewish and Buddhist effects and substantively equivalent findings for the four larger groups. Further sensitivity analyses with Jews combined with the non-religious (in some settings, such as the U.S., Jews are as, or more, gender egalitarian than the non-religious) yielded consistent results toward greater equality for this non-religious and Jewish group, but the effects toward equality were not as large as the effects for the proportion non-religious without Jews.
Though adherence does not encompass all aspects of religiousness (e.g., it does not address behavior), and some nations have high levels of stated affiliation with low levels of religiousness, identity is the best available country-level measure.
GDP and the human development index are not included in the same models because the index includes income.
Other measures thought to be associated with gender equality cross-culturally—such as rules of residence (matrilocal, patrilocal, or neolocal), systems of decent (unilineal vs. cognatic systems), principle kinship grouping (nuclear family, extended family, or corporate descent group), typical household structure (extended family vs. nuclear family), and principle form of marriage (monogamy, polygyny, or polyandry)—would be only weakly exogenous to religion and many would be highly collinear with proportion Muslim.
Directly comparing the Christian and Muslim categories to one another yields significant differences in Models 3 and 5, but not 4 and 6. The non-religious effect is significantly different from each religious group in all models.
Following a helpful reviewer’s suggestion, I included a globalization index as an additional covariate in sensitivity analyses. The 2011 KOF globalization index, which is highly correlated (.82) with the Human Development Index, has a significant and substantial effect on the Gender Inequality Index, but not the Gender Equity Index, in the full models that include the human development index. When including the globalization index in the models, the religion effects are similar, but the human development index coefficients are smaller.
The reference category, the non-religious category, and the Christian category are significantly different from the Muslim category in all five models that present these categories separately, but the Muslim and Hindu effects are not significantly different in any of the five models. The non-religious effect toward equality is significantly larger than that of all groups, including Christians, in all five models.
I would like to thank a helpful reviewer for encouraging me to present these confirmatory results in addition to the earlier results.
On the Gender Inequality Index there is an S-shaped relationship between proportion non-religious and gender equality, with positive main effects, negative second-level (or squared) interaction effects showing that the effects are smaller at mid-level proportions of non-religious populations, and positive third-level or (or cubed) interaction effects showing that the effects are higher at the highest proportions of non-religious people.
Using Stata 13, I conducted Durbin and Wu-Hausman endogeneity tests (all models were within acceptable levels). I conducted Wald tests for instrument strength, and the instrument was strong in all models except GII Model 2, as noted in the text. The instrument was almost strong, with an eigenvalue of 16.03 and the Wald test size of nominal 5 % being 16.38.
I would like to thank a particularly helpful reviewer for many of the suggestions for future research.
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The author is grateful to Art Alderson, Brian Powell, and the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on this project.
See Table 7.
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Schnabel, L. Religion and Gender Equality Worldwide: A Country-Level Analysis. Soc Indic Res 129, 893–907 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-015-1147-7
- Gender equality