Why are only 25% of Atheist Women?

I have a 4 year old daughter and have a small battle on my hands to protect her from her mother's 'spirituality' and loose association with a church. I recently discovered that approximately only 25% of atheists are women.

Away from clichés about lonely middle aged women finding god, I've been pondering what are the other pitfalls that snare women in to the grips of organised religion or having independent spiritual faith?

Without wanting to brainwash my daughter myself, in what ways can I help her avoid others doing that to her? Or is there something maternally unavoidable about a women's increased tendency to be drawn to a god?

Intelligent people, please help to guide me along this difficult path.

  • Heather Spoonheim

    I think the biggest factor influencing that statistic is the social conditioning that discourages women, particularly young girls, from expressing their opinion.  There are likely plenty more women without faith than those who opening identify as Atheist but many likely avoid making such a 'bold' declaration of religious stance.

    When a man speaks his mind as openly as I do, he is often called 'rather outspoken' - while I'm called 'opinionated' or just a 'stone-cold bitch'.  In my case, I'm rather proud of the latter - but few women are prepared to live with the consequences of being perceived in that way.

    Part of this is also sexual.  While men are mostly turned on by visual stimuli (porn, strippers, short skirts), women are mostly turned on by feeling they are desired (romance novels, chick flicks, flowers).  I heard an interesting quote in Sons of Anarchy when a female character said to her current boyfriend, "Oh, men are the ones who need to be loved - women just need to be wanted."  Anyway, because of the need to be desirable or 'wanted', women are biologically motivated to keep their more polarizing opinions to themselves in a society that doesn't consider 'opinionated women' very feminine or desirable.

    As far as your daughter goes, I guess the best bet is to encourage education, even outside of school with lots of trips to museums, access to scientific magazines, and that sort of thing - coupled with expressing a desire to hear her perspective on these things, whatever they might be.  In the end, even if she doesn't become a card-carrying, argumentative anti-theist, it doesn't mean that she believes all the nonsense.  She may need to play along with religion for many years in order to maintain her relationship with her mom.

  • Jerry Wright

    I love Heather's comments.  The only thing I will add is that girls are not called "daddys little girl" for nothing.  If you're educated she will want to be educated.  If you  go to museums, she will want to follow.  If you are fun and interesting, she will want to be like you.  I've got fifty years of experience with daughters and grand-daughters.  They love their dads. When I ask them who they are most like or who they want to be like, they all say their dads. I know this is not true in every situation.  I can only talk about my family.

  • Ed

    You must be certain that your daughter is exposed to and realizes the wonderful natural truths that surround us. Grab her hand and take her to the natural history museums, the art galleries, the planetariums, the Broadway plays, the camping trips, and the nature hikes where she will be provoked to think on her own. She will be just fine.  

  • Strega

    Get her to collect baby dinosaurs.  She will work all the rest out by herself, once she understands dinosaurs.

  • Logicallunatic

    I can see the causal link now between my dinosaur fascination as a kid and my current scientific mind.  : )

  • David Henson

    First of all, my condolences and my encouragement. Don't give up.

    Women in the early Christian movement were most important. Yet Paul warned women of idleness. Young widows were prone to gossip etc.

    Young women and men walk a maze. Just give the child a broad picture. She could take advantage of the Church, you know. Give her an open canvas where the good and the bad are not so much dependent upon your own and she has an objective perspective.

    Try to show you your weaknesses as well as the weaknesses of the people on the path she is likely to cross.

  • Heather Spoonheim

    Of course the weakness of the theists on the path she is likely to cross is their inability to discern truth, or to distill it from others more learned, and their perpetual belief that truth can only be asserted unfounded and without shame.

  • Jason

    25% of Atheists are women? Well Gavin, don’t put too much thought into percentages and statistics. Anybody can just make up a percentage/statistic . 28% of people know that.

  • Colleen

    I wouldn't sweat the statistic too much.  The good news is that behavior is dynamic.  Looking at the trend, more and more women are coming out as atheists.  I think the best way is to teach your little girl the value of critical thinking.  Talk to her about science and the world around her just as much as you would a little boy.  Teach her that her thoughts and opinions matter just as much as her feelings.

    My father was not perfect, but he took me fishing and to the science museum and he talked to me about the stars.  He treated me and my brother as equals.  He didn't force it on me, but he included me every step of the way.  I still did ballet and played with barbies and wore my hair in braids and bows, but on the weekends I was out exploring the world and learning new things and having fun.

  • MikeLong

    I've often wondered about this and I have no ideas.

    "Oh, men are the ones who need to be loved - women just need to be wanted."
    Very insightful. Maybe someone should ask Kurt Sutter (who, I presume, wrote this line) for his opinion.
  • Kairan Nierde

    The first thing to understand is that gender is a social construct.  Girls and boys are socialized differently and so they learn to think about and interact with the world in gendered ways.  Some examples:  Women learn from girlhood to defer to authority.  Independence and self-reliance are traits prized in boys while girls learn to value interdependence.  Starting at the end of elementary school, girls receive tremendous pressure to funnel their energies into appearing pleasing and adopting stereotypically feminine behavior above all else.  Girls are not encouraged to develop their intellect or become physically active.  There are other exmples as well, but by this point, I am sure you can see how it is very easy to mold a girl into a passive, intellectually disengaged woman.  This is the best type of person to line your pews with!  Of course, there are the realities of being an adult female in a patriarchal society, regardless of socialization, but I do not wish to start a thread on gender inequality, which tends to be controversial among atheists. 


    In my personal experience, there were several things that my parents did which set me down the path of free-thinking.  My parents are both Christian and did not intend for me to become an atheist.  Here is what they did:

    1. Mom taught me to treat everyone equally and to value all human life.  One of the most important things a girl can learn is that she is just as good as the boys.  My parents were by no means feminists.  The key concept they taught me is human equality.  Gender equality, in particular, has to be reinforced over and over to balance out the ubiquitous influence of popular culture and bronze-aged values.  Your daughter has to believe in her self worth--she needs confidence in her mind and her ability to discern the truth.
    2. Dad taught me to question the answers.  Critical thinking skills are the bedrock, but the foundation which lies above that is pursuit of the truth, no matter the external pressures.  Healthy skepticism, determination, and a love of knowledge will lead a curious mind past the pitfalls of common 'wisdom.'
    3. Mom taught me empathy.  Caring about the plight of others led me to reject the damnation of heathens and unbaptised babies in my early childhood.  This was my first step away from faith.
  • mick herman

    http://secularist10.hubpages.com/hub/Women-and-Atheism I found this page to be informative and several ideas might hold water even if we can't confirm any of them, many women seem to put less value into critical thinking than men but i don't think this can solely explain a gap this large.

  • Barbara

    I'm an old granny so I'm out of touch with today's youth culture.  When I was a girl, though,  if you said you were an atheist the fellas assumed you were easy.  Keeping my mouth shut saved me from some very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situations.

  • Gavin Martin

    Kairan, you have provided an excellent answer. Most other replies stated that I should just be a good father and did not attempt to help me to understand the potential problem. providing solutions rather than critical thinking or analytical debate of the problem is a patriarchal method that suppresses women all the time. 'Don't worry your pretty little head about it, do this without justification'. Now everyone was well meaning, but I would have thought that the good father advice was unnecessary and goes without saying. I guess i'm being ungrateful, but I really want to get too the crux of the matter.

    I have strong feminist beliefs myself and get frustrated with gender stereotyping stifling my daughter's perception of what she can and can't do. This is the true battle. If I teach her to always ask herself why, then I will have given her as best of a chance as possible in life, as I believe Kairan's parents have done for her. I think I was raised differently to my sister and we are a prime example of gender stereotyping choosing our different outlooks on life. Not that I have a negative opinion about her.

    as for the survey, and the statistic it was from an Atheist census that I got from a Dawkins link this week. I'll post the link tomorrow and have another review of the responses then.

    And as for 'atheist girls are easy' I just read, another feminist issue is brought in to view. That shouldn't effect an anonymous census. I did have a little chuckle though old timer.
  • Melvinotis

    Your situation is not anything about the national statistics, otherwise you would also have 1.87 children, instead of just the one.

    Teach her science, and the rest will sort itself out. You won't need to start a war with her mother or her mother's family.  

  • Ben wright

    apparently some studies have been done about the effects of dopamean on faith and beliefs, they were quite interesting. People that were given dopamean were more susceptible to wish thinking. This coupled with women have (on average) more dopamean than men could explain some of the phenomenon. Google for more specific info.
  • Lewal

    I just wrote an entire essay on this and I am absolutely stricken comatose at the thought of answering that question.

  • Tom Sarbeck

    Gavin, a few weeks ago I viewed a C-SPAN presentation of a convention of state supreme court justices. The narrator announced that of the fifty state supreme courts, the chief justices of more than half were women.

    Show videos like that to your daughter and stay out of her way.

  • Kairan Nierde

    Hrm, I do believe my reputation as a religious, "good girl" may have shielded me from more agressive flirtation in high school.  I never really thought it served to protect me but that could be a sign of progress.  People did think differently in the past about the sexual availability of women.  Class, religion, race, ethnicity all play into how people evaluate a woman's status.  My grandmother was a divorcee in the 50s.  She had trouble with male colleages (Christian) assuming she was promiscuous (ironically, her husband's infidelity ended their marriage).  I could imagine certain people associating atheism with immorality--the 'fallen' woman.  ::rolls eyes::

    Gavin, it sounds like you are aware of the challenges facing your family and ready to combat them.  It's really impressive how conscientious so many atheist parents are about raising their children.  If only everyone cared so much!  I am really optimistic that your daughter will be well prepared to flourish despite it all. 

  • luvtheheaven

    The atheist census site says here in the United States it's closer to 1/3rd of us who are women. I think some of the other factors are:

    women are more emotional on average and believing is more of an emotional thing, I suppose. A lot of people when asked why they believe will honestly answer, on shows like The Atheist Experience and stuff, that it's simply because they want it to be true, or it feels good to know God loves you or even just the social community and the fear of losing that.

    women are pressured to be good parents more than men to some degree, and are taken as the responsible parties for their children's religious exposure and upbringing. If you don't take your kid to church and Sunday School or CCD or whatever you're a bad mother. Also in Judiaism it's the mother being Jewish that makes a kid Jewish, not the father. :P

    People with Asperger's Syndrome are much more likely to be male and they also are more likely than the average person to be an atheist, from what I remember hearing on the Reasonable Doubts podcast or reading somewhere. It makes sense to me. Men are more likely to be hyper-rationtional and/or emotionally-challenged and therefore more likely to not be swayed by the typical religious/God arguments.

    Just some thoughts.

  • luvtheheaven

    Kairan, you make a lot of great points. I too was raised to be religious but also raised to be empathethic, think of myself as completely equal to males, intelligence and education were greatly valued in my house growing up, etc. I had a favorite dinosaur lol, and well I had a brother so I participated in plenty of somewhat boy-ish activities like playing with matchbox cars and legos and k-nex and pokemon, and while I was never a tomboy and still had girly things, liked the colors pink and purple and still do, played with dolls a bit, etc, I was never pressured to be too girly. So that perhaps helped lead me on my path to atheism.

  • Brazillian atheist

    This is a good post, i sometimes get concerned on how am i gonna raise atheist kids if i marry a theist woman, so far i haven't even told my parents that i am an atheist, they are from 2 different religions. But they agree on some spots: Alfterlife, jesus and that there must be a god who is behind the bigbang, the evolution, the laws of physics... Because to them, everything needs a cause. But if you ask them "Then where did god came from?" my mother say "The human race is too young to know these things" an my father say "That is one of the many things that we don't know"

    So it kind of bothers me that i might have to deal with these answers from my future wife and kids

  • Gavin Martin

    Atheist Census - This was the statistical source. Thanks for the wit Jason, 11% of readers found that hilarious! It's a censor by atheists for atheists, but could be a very imperfect survey for many reasons. I picked up the link from a female friend of mine, so that is good enough for me to believe it is not completely flawed.

    Thanks also to Heather for her post, I like women to be opinionated. Half my adult life I struggled to meet someone like that. I'm not sure about the biological 'need to be wanted' theory though, I believe those instincts are conditioned as much as any.

    Thanks also Jerry, I know I have a big influence and therefore responsibility. I know there will be questions coming and will deal with them as I have with death; not be reaching for easy religious answers about better places.

    To all the dinosaur fans out there, she love the prehistorically incorrect book, but inspiring 'Dinosaurs love underpants'.

  • Gavin Martin

    iprefertostayanonnymous, My wife's religion is not a great concern, I am more opinionated and will probably apply more influence in the area of theism/atheism. My daughter will make her own mind up and may change it several times, either way she will still be loved equally and it is not a measure of my success as a father.

    What more do we want for that the happiness and health of our children? I hope we can have long open minded conversations about important world issues. I hope she follows my love for sporting activity. I hope she is not poisoned by the constant analysis of female bodies by the media. I hope she is not shallow or materialistic. The list goes on and it's nice to dream that she might grown up to be this perfect person, but it can't and won't be forced.

    I will worry, but this is being a parent. It is absolutely wonderful!

  • Tom Sarbeck

    Gavin and all, I see a lot of wisdom in the posts here, though I too am unsure about the biological 'need to be wanted' theory.

    When I (a straight, white male) reached the age of frustration with how men and women differed socially and became able to verbalize my frustration, I remarked that the women I knew had been taught a low self-esteem and it became a man's responsibility, via frequent compliments, to raise that self-esteem.

    With additional time, I realized that my frustration was due to having been born to parents who themselves had been born to parents (etc, etc and etc) who did not know the value of compliments. I did once in a while from non-family hear compliments and cynically asked myself "What do they want?"

    While in college I met a fellow student's family who changed my life for the better, and for about half a century I've never forgotten an opportunity I missed. I was walking past a small (really small, with just a door and a narrow window facing the street) women's clothing shop. In the window I saw a saleswoman with a customer who was trying on a dress. I'd gone a few more steps when I wished I had told the customer she made the dress look attractive.

    Too soon old and too late smart.