Catholic Women More Open to Change Than Catholic Men

By Wallace, Ruth A. | National Catholic Reporter, October 8, 1993 | Go to article overview

Catholic Women More Open to Change Than Catholic Men


Wallace, Ruth A., National Catholic Reporter


The 1993 NCR/Gallup survey found both Catholic men and women are more change-oriented in thinking and behavior than in the 1987 initial survey.

One also sees a gender shift occurring, indicating Catholic women are now more open to change than Catholic men.

Can the church continue to expect women to transmit religious values to the younger generation? A partial answer is found on three items in our survey showing statistically significant gender differences:

1. 56 percent of women and only 44 percent of men say they would never leave the church, slightly down from 61 percent and 50 percent, respectively, in 1987.

2. Likewise, a higher percentage of women (49 percent) than men (37 percent) say the church is the most important or among the most important parts of their lives. Again, this is a decrease from 1987 when the figure was a full 10 percent higher: 59 percent for women and two percent higher (39 percent) for men.

3. An even larger gender difference is found on an important behavioral item: Mass attendance. Almost half (49 percent) of the women and only one-third (32 percent) of the men say they attend Mass daily or at least weekly. This represents a 3 percent decrease for both women and men over the past six years.

Thus, Catholic women continue to be more committed to the church than their male counterparts, but their commitment has weakened over the past six years. In fact, our survey shows that women are not finding some of the church's teachings very relevant. This has repercussions for the attitudes of the future generation of Catholics (see Table 19 below).

In 1987, two-thirds (66 percent) of both men and women said one can be a good Catholic without obeying the birth control teaching. This increased to approximately three-fourths by 1993, with slightly more women (75 percent) than men (71 percent) responding affirmatively.

A greater increase in questioning the official position of the church is found on the abortion issue. In 1987, almost half of men (45 percent), but only one-third of women (34 percent) said one can be a good Catholic without obeying the church's teaching regarding abortion. Now, over half of men (55 percent) and women (56 percent) answer yes to this question. The increase in affirmative responses over the past six years for women (22 percent) is double that of men (10 percent).

         GENDER DIFFERENCES:  BIRTH CONTROL, ABORTION
                  AND ORDINATION FOR WOMEN
                   (PERCENTAGES)

                                       Men          Women
                                    1987   1993   1987   1993
Can be "good Catholic" without...
   Obeying birth control teaching    66     71     66     75
   Obeying abortion teaching         45     55     34     56
Laity should participate in...
   Deciding whether women should
   be ordained                       50     60     46     65
--Source:  NCR/Gallup polls

These new data challenge the stereotype projected in the media that Catholic women are overwhelmingly committed to the abortion teaching of the church.

Finally, there is evidence that unquestioned acceptance of church law restricting priestly ordination to men continues to weaken. In 1987 about half of the men (50 percent) and women (46 percent) said the laity should have the right to participate in deciding whether women should be ordained to the priesthood. This trend increased by 1993 to almost two-thirds for men (60 percent) and women (65 percent).

In addition, over the past six years there has been a gender shift on this item. The change in women's attitudes (from 46 percent to 65 percent) is double that of men on the women's ordination issue.

Why are we seeing these trends? What are the various factors that have contributed to these changes?

Historical circumstances should be taken into account. In the past six years, American women's thinking has been changed as a result of a growing awareness of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. …

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