Differences in Personality

Women's religiosity has often been explained as related to personality factors. Thus the overrepresentation of women in 19th-century U.S. revivalism was explained by Cross (1965) as due to their being "... less educated, more superstitious, and more zealous than men" (p. 178). More recently, it has been suggested "that women's behaviour is more often directed by sensitivity and intuition, while men are more likely to act according to rational and logical considerations" (Hollinger & Smith, 2002, p. 242).

There is plenty of evidence for personality differences between men and women; some of these may be relevant to the differences in religious activity. Some of them may be innate, such as greater male aggressiveness and risk-taking (Geary, 1998; Gray, 1971; Stark, 2002). Males are more likely to die violently and to commit suicide at any age. They tend to be more aggressive and dominance oriented than females in most mammalian species, including humans (e.g., Daly & Wilson, 1983; Pratto, Sidanius, & Stallworth, 1993). Human males are verbally and physically more aggressive than females across cultures (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1989; Rohner, 1976). Research suggests that males tend to be more inclined toward aggressiveness, whether physical or psychological (Cairns et al., 1989; Eagly, 1987; Eagly & Steffen, 1986). Sex differences in dominance emerge early in the preschool years and at about the same time in all cultures that have been studied (Maccoby, 1988). As children, boys are observed to be competitive and aggressive. Girls are sociable and helpful, and enjoy social contact for its own sake (Opie, 1993). "In general, women tend to manifest behaviors that can be described as socially sensitive, friendly, and concerned with others' welfare, whereas men tend to manifest behaviors that can be described as dominant, controlling, and independent" (Eagly, 1995, p. 154).

Are women more emotional? They clearly are readier to express feelings and admit dependence. They are also readier to demonstrate interpersonal caring, sensitivity, and warmth. Spence and Helmreich (1978) described the dichotomy of orientations in females and males as communion versus agency. Communion is the tendency to be concerned about closeness to others, while agency is the tendency to be self-interested and assertive. It has been suggested that "the feminine (not simply female) voice adheres to a calculus of development through attachments and connectedness, rather than growth through separation and substitution" (Thompson, 1991, p. 391). In most cultures males are less nurturant and less emotionally expressive (D'Andrade, 1967), while women are more submissive and passive, anxious, and dependent (Garai & Scheinfeld, 1968).

J. B. Miller (1986) suggested that the subjective experiences of women are affected by two major factors: first, the permanent inequality in social relationships, under which women are encouraged to be submissive, dependent, and passive; second, the relational self is the core of self-structure in women. Boys' groups tend to be larger, forming "gangs," while girls organize themselves into smaller groups or pairs (Thorne, 1993). Women assume more responsibility for relationship maintenance and social support (Belle, 1982; Turner, 1994). Empathy, defined as the vicarious affective response to another person's feelings, is more prevalent in females (Hoffman, 1977). Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1989) suggested that, throughout human evolution, the social style of females provided the basis for maintaining the long-term stability of social groups. "Women throughout the world are perceived to be the nurturant sex" (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974, p. 215).

Males appear to be relatively more object oriented, and females more people oriented (McGuinness, 1993). On standard personality inventories, such as the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (EPPS), consistent differences are found, with women higher on Affiliation, and Nurturance, and men higher on Dominance and Aggression.

Females "express more fear, are more susceptible to anxiety, are more lacking in task confidence, seek more help and reassurance, maintain greater proximity to friends, score higher on social desirability, and at the younger ages at which compliance has been studied, are more compliant with adults" (Block, 1976, p. 307). There is much evidence showing that women have stronger guilt feelings, and are more intropunitive than men (Wright, 1971). It has been stated that women experience higher rates of childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, which is a predictor of later depression, and may have depressions related to hormonal changes and to sex-role conditioning that encourages patterns of negative thinking and passivity (McGrath, Keita, Strickland, & Russo, 1990). In the United States, it has been estimated that between 2.3% and 3.2% of men, and between 4.5% and 9.3% of women, meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder at any given moment (Depression Guideline Panel, 1993). Higher levels of depression are found in women, starting in adolescence. This has been explained as the result of "ruminative coping," a tendency to focus inwardly and passively on one's emotions (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990, 1995). Kaplan (1983) showed that women were more commonly diagnosed as suffering from disorders of internalized conflict, such as depression, cyclothymic disorder, panic disorder, and phobia, while men were more often diagnosed as suffering from acting-out disorders, such as substance abuse or antisocial personality.

Many of the "female" traits could well lead to greater religiosity. Dependence, on gods and saints, is part of the religious attitude. Nurturance is a basic religious value. Guilt feelings are often appealed to in sermons and revivals, which then offer relief from them. A. S. Miller and Hoffmann (1995) found that males' risk preference and females' risk aversion were related to religiosity.

The basic difference in personality styles is reflected in fantasy products. Women's dreams involve relationships and loss, while men are likely to dream about fighting, protecting, and competing, almost always with other men (McQuarrie, Kramer, & Bonnet, 1980;

A. R. Moffitt, Kramer, & Hoffmann, 1993). And when ready-made fantasies are consumed, as in watching television, women constitute the audience for soap operas while men watch aggressive sports (or follow political and economic news, which are often far from fantasies). Women live vicarious family and relationship conflicts and happy endings through the reading of popular romance novels. It has been noted that religious mythologies deal with family conflicts, loyalty, and betrayal, as well as with fierce competition among men.

Religious attitudes are crystallized during adolescence, and it seems likely that sex differences in religion are also fixed at this age. Suziedalis and Potvin (1981), with a large sample of children aged 12-17, found that religiosity was related quite differently to the self-images of boys and girls. For the girls, religion was related to aspects of extraversion such as help-seeking and sociability, and to being rule-bound rather than rebellious, interpreted as needing external guidance. For the boys, religion was related to an activity cluster (adventurous and ambitious), but not to a potency cluster of "macho" scales, and also related to a socialized cluster (nurturance, trusting, and tolerant), interpreted as inner harmony.

It seems that males and females experience the transition from adolescence to adulthood as a crisis and/or an opportunity, but it is more of the former for females. Block and Robins (1993) found that between the ages of 14 and 23, males became more self-confident and females became less self-confident. At age 23, women with high self-esteem valued relationships with others. At age 23, men with high self-esteem were more emotionally distant and controlled in interpersonal relations.

Getting to Know Anxiety

Getting to Know Anxiety

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