Women in America are becoming more religious: they are praying more often and say religion is more important in their lives. But lest anyone over-interpret this trend, women are not backing off one little bit from a strong insistence on equal treatment in jobs, pay, and education.
The relationship between religion, one's personal life, and one's career has always been a complicated one, and it certainly is today for American women. It's not a situation that can be summed up in a sound-bite or legitimately turned into a self-serving stance by a political group.
The first reality is that American women are religious. Eighty-six percent identify with some religious denomination, according to a survey released earlier this year by Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Center for Gender Equality. Three-quarters (75 percent) say religion is important in their lives, up from 69 percent in 1996. An even bigger shift has occurred in women's reports of praying. In 1996, 63 percent of women said they prayed every day. The latest survey found 74 percent saying they pray each and every day.
And women say they gain substantial guidance from being involved in churches and other religious organizations. Perhaps not surprisingly, 77 percent of the women say they find guidance from church in how to raise their children, and 69 percent said they find help on how to be a good wife.
That's not terribly surprising. But 64 percent of women also say that being involved in church makes them feel their rights are the same as a man's. And 54 percent say they find guidance on how to be successful in a career in their religious activities.
In addition to being more religious, women are increasingly open to the application of religious values in politics. The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal may be responsible for some of this change, but it is nonetheless a revealing one. Women are now split 46-46 on whether elected officials should be "guided by their religious values when making policy decisions." In 1992, the split was 32-63 against mixing religious values and politics.
Does this increased importance of religion mean women are retreating from the basic demands for equal treatment as compared to men? Not at all. Women may be more religious, but that does not mean turning back the clock on their gains of the last four decades. Women are nearly unanimous in their demand for the same treatment as men in terms of employment (94 percent), pay raises and promotions (98 percent), education (99 percent), health care (95 percent), and access to credit (98 percent). They are not as definitive on sports (76 percent) and the military (64 percent), but the majorities are still strong ones.
This study focused solely on women. But Gallup polls on religion in America suggest that men may be becoming somewhat more religious as well. Men do seem, however, to continue to be less religious than women.
One final conclusion: The growing religious fervor of American women does not mean they agree with the dictum from the Southern Baptist convention that "wives should submit graciously to the leadership of their husbands." Sixty-two percent of American women disagree with that statement, while only 36 percent agree.