Surveys have long shown women lead more active lives of faith than men, and that millennials are less interested than earlier generations. One in three now claim no religious identity.
What may be new is that more women, generation by generation, are moving in the direction of men – away from faith, religious commitment, even away from vaguely spiritual views like “a deep sense of wonder about the universe,” according to some surveys.
Michaela Bruzzese, 46, is a Mass-every-week Catholic, like her mother, but sees few of her Gen X peers in the pews.
“I have women friends who grew up Catholic who think my choice to stay Catholic is like I choose to keep believing in Santa Claus. They just don’t get what is in the church for me,” said Bruzzese.
“For me, Catholicism is a verb – it is the action of being in the world and trying to live the gospel,” said Bruzzese, who teaches theology at a Catholic high school in Albuquerque, N.M. Many of her students have parents who no longer observe the faith.
That fits with the findings of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which tracks Catholic faith and practice.
In 2012, 24 percent of men and 30 percent of women considered themselves to be “strong Catholics.” In 1974, CARA found 46 percent of men and 45 percent of women considered themselves to be “strong Catholics
On the rise are those who call themselves “not very strong” Catholics. That self-description by men climbed to 67 percent in 2012, up from 44 percent 1974. Among women, 57 percent said their faith was “not very strong,” up from 43 percent 40 years ago.
Senior researcher Mark Gray, director of CARA polls, sees “some evidence of a closing ‘gender gap,’ but I’m not sure how to disentangle this from life-cycle effects. It may be as women age they become more religious or spiritual and men do not (as much).”
Another survey – one that asked questions about spirituality – found significant differences between men and women and marked change between generations.
In fall 2014, the Public Religion Research Institute asked four spirituality questions as part of a larger survey on attitudes toward climate change.
Respondents were asked how frequently they sensed “a connection to all life,” a “deep inner peace or harmony,” “a deep connection with nature and the earth,” and “a deep sense of wonder about the universe.”
Almost one-third of Americans said these spiritual experiences were not a regular part of their lives. And each age group described themselves as experiencing less wonder than the age group before.
While 49 percent of seniors (ages 65 and older) rated high on the spirituality index, only 29 percent of young adults (ages 18-29) did likewise. And 44 percent of women scored high on the index but only 36 percent of men.