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Home » Opinion | Young Women Are Fleeing Organized Religion. This Was Predictable.

Opinion | Young Women Are Fleeing Organized Religion. This Was Predictable.


Alexis Draut, 28, was raised Christian in Kentucky. Her parents took her and her sister to nondenominational megachurches that adhered to a lot of Baptist and Pentecostal ideals, she said. As a kid, she loved the way every service felt “like a concert,” filled with music and light, and she made loads of friends through church. She went to Berry College in rural Georgia, a place that she described as “steeped in Southern culture, where religion is incredibly important.”

But even surrounded by believers as a college student, Draut began to question some of the values she was brought up with. Specifically, she took issue “with the sexism, with the purity culture, with being boxed in as a woman.” She couldn’t stomach the notion that “you only have these specific roles of childbearing, taking care of the children, cooking and being submissive to your husband,” she told me. “That was also around the time that Donald Trump was elected president,” Draut added. “So I didn’t want to associate with that kind of evangelicalism.”

Draut is representative of an emerging trend: young women leaving church “in unprecedented numbers,” as Daniel Cox and Kelsey Eyre Hammond wrote in April for Cox’s newsletter, American Storylines. Cox and Hammond, who both work at the Survey Center on American Life at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, explain: “For as long as we’ve conducted polls on religion, men have consistently demonstrated lower levels of religious engagement. But something has changed. A new survey reveals that the pattern has now reversed.”

While over the past half-century, Americans of all ages, genders and backgrounds have moved away from organized religion, as I wrote in a series on religious “nones” — atheists, agnostics and nothing-in-particulars — young women are now disaffiliating from organized religion in greater percentages than young men. And women pushing back on the beliefs and practices of several different faiths, particularly different Christian traditions, is something I have been reading about more and more.

Cox and Hammond write:

What’s remarkable is how much larger the generational differences are among women than men. Gen Z men are only 11 points more religiously unaffiliated than baby boomer men, but the gap among women is almost two and a half times as large. Thirty-nine percent of Gen Z women are unaffiliated compared to only 14 percent of baby boomer women.

The proportion of unaffiliated millennial women is pretty close to that of Gen Z women — 34 percent. The big shift seems to have taken place between Gen X and millennials, as only 23 percent of Gen X women describe themselves as nones, according to Cox and Hammond’s analysis. They argue that increasingly, there’s a cultural mismatch between young women — who are more likely to call themselves feminists and to support L.G.B.T.Q. rights and reproductive rights — and the teachings of some of the largest Christian denominations in America, which are veering right and turning toward more retrogressive ideas about women’s place in their organizations.

The Southern Baptist Church, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, may be the most glaring example of this tension. As my newsroom colleagues Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham reported last year, an “ultraconservative” wing of the church’s leadership flexed its muscles and voted to bar women from its leadership ranks, ousting several churches that retained female pastors. The final vote on the issue is taking place this week at the denomination’s annual convention.

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