Recently, articles have been written about why, for Mormon & Evangelical (& maybe Catholic?) marriagable folks in my age demographic, there appears to be 3 eligible girls for every 2 eligible guys. Two factors seem to be (1) non-religious girls convert to Christianity more (may I recommend Rodney Stark’s provocative thesis for why) which increases the female pool, and (2) the defection rate for born-and-raised-religious seems higher with men than women.
Many defectors have their reasons, including alienation from a faith-based community, disillusionment with their religion, or a desire for intellectual honesty, to face truth no matter how painful the consequences. But why would these factors influence males disproportionately? I don’t think they would.
I have my own theories for why the defection rate is higher for Christian boys than Christian girls. These are just my theories, I know correlation doesn’t mean causation, but here goes. In order from least to greatest…
(1) sexual activity in college
Assuming that one’s faith is generally renounced in early adulthood (e.g. college), say between the ages of 17-25, I think faith-loss could be correlated to (1) sexual activity in college. As traditional religions frown upon sexual activity outside marriage, and the average American first marriage age is increasingly postponed to 29 (or 28?), those who are sexually active in college are more likely to be alienated from their religious upbringing. According to the stats from my undergrad, a larger group of males is sexually active with a smaller pool of women, thus sexual abstinence is higher among female populations. So it stands to reason that females will have consequently higher rates of faith-retention.
(2) In the university/academic environment, there is more cultural pressure on men to defect than women.
In the university/academic environment, there is (2) more cultural pressure on men to defect than women. For example, at my undergrad East Coast Ivy, I took some flak for not hiding my traditional faith and its consequent requirements for humanity (e.g. prolife, anti-embryonic research, etc). And I am pretty sure my antagonists were kindly pulling their punches because I was partly non-white and especially because I was a woman. To them, I was the benighted fool embracing my subjugation, and not the devil himself.
But if I had been a white male, I’m not sure how I could have held on to my conservative/traditional faith in college without dropping out. They would have hit a lot harder. I’m suspecting that in adversarial environments, white males tend to hide their faith (and consequently lose it) at much higher rates than their female counterparts. They take more flak, and so we lose them at higher numbers.
(3) more pressure on the breadwinner of the family to defect from an unpopular minority religion
Also, if Coptic Christians in the Caliphate in the 13th century, or Irish Catholics under English Anglican rule in the 18th century are parallel cases, there is always (3) more pressure on the breadwinner of the family to defect from an unpopular minority religion, than the rest of the family. The kids and the women have the luxury of clinging to their unpopular religious views, but the breadwinner, who must compete in the workplace, must charm, must network, must toe the line of the majority ideology much more carefully. His job depends on it.
This is where traditional religious culture is biting its own head off. See, in our current climate, to simultaneously (1) emphasize it is the husband’s duty (and not the wife’s) to provide for their family and (2) demand that men keep their conservative faith, is to put a conservative religious man in a Catch-22. It is a double bind. He is told that he isn’t a man if he can’t hold a job to support a future family, but then, he can’t hold the job very well if he holds on to his minority faith!
So, tacitly, men are getting the message that they should compromise their own faith, because the job means more. What appears, on first glance, to be a spontaneous loss of faith, is actually a calculated transaction, where middle-class respectability (e.g. male employment) triumphs over religious fidelity to the principles of one’s faith.
This is only exacerbated by the fact that we no longer live in a muscle-driven industrial era, but a brains-and-charm-driven tertiary employment era, so men no longer have the edge on women in employment that they once did. And yet, traditional conservative cultures still require the man to be the provider. Well, if he is going to be, he is going to have to be competitive in the market. And part of being more hireable is fitting in to the majority culture.
(4) conservative Christian religion actually requires far more from a man than from a woman
This is a gut feeling more than anything else. Don’t get me wrong — it is very hard to be a woman. But I think it is still harder to be a man.
In traditional Christianity, what separates the “Christian girl” from the “Christian woman” are a few painful steps in maturity. But what separates the “Christian guy” from the “Christian man” is closer to crossing the Grand Canyon. It’s a steep fall, and the rocks at the bottom are hard and sharp.