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Work, Family, and Religious Involvement for Men and Women


by Penny Edgell (Becker) and based on research conducted with Heather Hofmeister.

In our society, for over a century, more women than men have attended church. In addition, mothers usually have had more responsibility for teaching their children religious beliefs and values than have fathers. These trends, which started in the early nineteenth century, were driven in part by changes in the economy. With the shift to a more urban economy where men’s work took place outside of the household, a lifestyle developed that associated femininity and domesticity with religion. Religion’s place in men’s and women’s family roles has changed over time in relation to economic shifts – and this relationship between gender, religion, and the economy continues to evolve.

Since the 1970s, the rapid movement of large numbers of women into the fulltime paid labor force has triggered a radical restructuring of the family. Dual-earner couples are now more common than male-breadwinner couples, and a large percentage of mothers, even of very young children, work full-time for pay. How has this affected men’s and women’s religious involvement?

Our data suggest that for both men and women, involvement in local congregations is associated with family formation – getting married and having children. For men, this relationship is somewhat automatic. However, for women religious involvement is more of a conscious choice to foster a certain kind of lifestyle and set of values. This is just the beginning of the differences.


    • Having a full-time job, being married, and having children significantly increase church attendance of males as well as their use of other congregational ministries for themselves and their children.
    • Religious involvement expresses a sense of establishment and maturity.
    • Participation in religion is a good "fit" with their roles as husbands, fathers, and providers for a family.
    • Church attendance increases for men who scale back their hours at work to spend more time with family.
    • Their participation is positively associated with marriage and children.


    • The single largest factor determining their own church attendance and their use of ministries for their children is their own beliefs about the importance of religion and the kind of work-family lifestyle they want to create.
    • Women who believe that going to church is important for the moral development of children go to church in high numbers.
    • Those who want a life centered around family and community instead of work attend worship services more frequently. This is true whether the women actually have a family or not, or whether they are employed, even fulltime, outside the home or not.


Shifts in women’s employment and family lifestyles since the 1970s have altered the way that women think about, and become involved in, local congregations. Such involvement does not flow automatically from marriage and motherhood; rather, women assess whether local congregations meet their own needs. They also decide whether religious participation helps them express a life-style and set of values that includes a focus on family and community and a rejection of careerism and materialism.

Men, who traditionally have not felt so torn between work and family as competing responsibilities, have changed less in their religious involvement. However, their religious involvement leads them to be more engaged as husbands and fathers.

For both sexes, religious choice and participation is becoming an intentional expression of lifestyle changes, and for women this is directly in relation to shifts in the economic reality and to their own assessment of how local congregations are willing to foster programs that are relevant to their lives and that help them manage the time squeeze associated with multiple work and family commitments.


We have more information on Penny Edgell's study and other key findings from her work.




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