Florida State Study Finds Health Benefits of Religious Service Participation Do Not Extend to All Women

A new study by two women sociologists at Florida State University finds that while a vibrant religious life is often linked to better health, this benefit does not accrue to women who attend church in congregations where women are not permitted to assume leadership positions.

The researchers found that women who attend sexist religious institutions report significantly worse self-rated health than those attending more inclusive congregations. They found that women who attend sexist congregations have the same health as those who do not attend religious services at all and have worse health than women who attend gender-inclusive churches.

“Women experience a health benefit from religious participation relative to non-participants only when they attend institutions that are gender-inclusive and allow women to hold meaningful leadership roles within the congregation,” explains Patricia Homan, an assistant professor of sociology and lead author of the study. “These results suggest that the health benefits of religious participation do not extend to groups that are systematically excluded from power and status within their religious institutions.”

The authors did not find any differences in health for men depending on their participation in religious services. “It is possible that exposure to congregational sexism benefits men in some way and harms them in other such that the net effect is zero,” Dr. Homan said.

“Our study presents novel evidence regarding the relationship between structural sexism and health,” Dr. Homan said. “Even in religious congregations, where engagement has well-known health benefits, structural sexism can undermine women’s well-being.”

Dr. Homan joined the faculty at Florida State University in 2018. She is a graduate of Princeton University in New Jersey, where she majored in sociology. Dr. Homan earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in sociology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Amy Burdette, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, was the co-author of the study.

The full study, “When Religion Hurts: Structural Sexism and Health in Religious Congregations,” was published on the website site of the journal American Sociological Review. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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