Religion's Effect on Gender Roles

Maris Headrick
Madison Johnson
Megan Reynolds

Huntington University


This research on Christianity as a religion effects on gender roles and gender stereotypes details a survey performed at Huntington University. With direct correlation between the historical, cultural, and economic ties from region to gender roles this research. While correlation is present, it is not as high of correlation expected.

Literature Review

Gender stereotypes and gender roles have been an integral part of history. Stereotypical thoughts that gender stereotypes go all the way back to Adam and Eve, the idea that Eve was made for Adam, and the instance that Eve persuaded Adam to eat the fruit, it all helps for many people to justify gender roles and stereotypes. In modern culture within the past hundred years there has been a movement to eliminate unequal or oppressive gender stereotypes and therefore the roles that are associated with those stereotypes. Within the Christian community the progression of gender stereotypes and roles, have had less of an evolving impact than this topic has in the secular American society.

Gender stereotypes have been extensively researched in the American society. Gender stereotypes are “widely held beliefs about the characteristics, behaviors, and roles of men and women” (Endendijk, 2013, pp.1). According to another journal by “Economic Inquiry”, stereotyping is the act of assigning to a member of a particular group a characteristic or trait based solely on the individual’s membership in that group (Grossman, 2013). Gender stereotypes are the thoughts that drive gender roles, roles such as women’s expectations in the home and men’s expectations outside of the home. Although there is always the atypical family who does not adhere to gender stereotypes and roles as a whole stereotypes are generalized in society.

The origin of gender roles can be associated to many different things. As stated earlier going all the way to the story of Adam and Eve, Biblical interpretations have combined with historical, cultural, and economic reasoning to help justify gender roles (Ecumenical Review, 2004). In one article done by Christianity Today magazine, it found that there is a clear difference in gender stereotypes between fundamentalist Christians and evangelical Christians in the early 1990’s. It found that fundamentalist Christians were twice as likely to believe that women should not be in leadership in the church (Balswick & Balswick, 1990).

As expressed earlier these stereotypes have led to commonly expected gender roles. One aspect of these roles is the chores associated with male and female roles, one study claims that chores are heavily sex types (Bernhardt, 2007). Also associated with these roles is the biological impact of having children. A European study claims that women change attachment to the labor force when children are born, while the man continues to work (Grossman, 2013). This can have an effect on the role in relationships and roles within career choice for women, it causes women to make less risky career choices and allows for men to be the riskier of the two (Grossman, 2013). Along with risks that men generally take it can allow for a term called hyper masculinity; it associates men with being more aggressive, it also associates men with being more likely to use drugs and alcohol, make more impulsive decisions, and seek danger. Along with hyper masculinity comes hyper femininity, which attributes women to experiencing more abuse (Ray & Gold, 1996).

Experiencing the generation gap has given a different view however, to gender roles. There has been an androgynous movement in both sexuality and simply gender stereotypes. Although many stereotypes are still present it is the progression of the generation gap that has led to constructs of generations (Guastello & Guastello, 2003). There also presents itself a stereotype threat. Self-fulfilling prophesy is a psychological term that accounts for an action occurring because it was spoken into existence. One study claims, that when someone is told they will be one way it results in that certain way, such as a stereotype, because it was prophesied to be that way (Hively & El-Alayli, 2014). This is argued against when looking at the seemingly androgynous nature of people from per say the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer community. However self-fulfilling prophesy was recorded in “Psychology of Sports and Exercise” in a study of how women do at math tests, when they are told they will not do well, they have lower scores; if they are told nothing they will normally score higher than if they are taunted (Hively, et al., 2014).

Female gender roles as compared to male gender roles are in certain cases difficult to locate because they differ in present culture according to many different aspects, such as observable religiosity to non- religious, or from culture to culture. A study done by “Pharmaceuticals Policy & Law”, claims that domestic work time declines when in the workforce, when women join the workforce domestic work decreases; however male involvement in domestic living only marginally increases with housework (Bernhardt, 2007). Another study by the “Journal of Gender Studies” gives that female expectations and attributes are sensitivity and affection, while male roles are aggression and courage (Lopez-Zafra & Garcia-Retamero, 2012). Another study done on occupational gender roles gives females the nurturing, caring, and sensitive roles, and gives to men decisive, cold, and “tough” roles.

More gender stereotypes in a study by “NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies” as well as a look at Will Ferrell’s comedy act. In the Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies traditional attitudes endorses a division of labor that segregates men into paid work outside the home and women into unpaid work inside the home (Stanik & Bryant, 2012). “The impact of values and attitudes on the allocation of household work is related to the extent to which each partner holds traditional values” (Kjeldstad &Lappengard, 2014, pp. 223). In Will Ferrell’s exposition of gender roles he gives a view as to the traditional roles of men and women and plays on these roles (Tait, 2014).

While many traditional gender roles have stemmed from historical Biblical interpretations of these roles, a study done by the “Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion” at Indiana University claims that modern Biblical interpretations of these roles accepts that the role of females has been widely misconstrued. They claim that in Bible times women were seen as equals, there were always women in the crowds, it is claimed that there were female disciples and they were of more significance than it has been emphasized in the past (Fletcher, 2014). This study also claims that there is a feminization of generic language in Biblical text.

As expressed earlier the role of androgyny also plays a role in Christian perspectives on gender roles and stereotypes. Androgyny is defined as “adaptive personality traits, and coping outcomes” (Anderson, 1986). This study claims that there are explicit male dominated roles when surrounded by men and implicit roles given to women as well as effects on self-esteem, giving more masculine females higher self-esteem and more feminine males less self-esteem. Androgyny attributes help to give men the justification to act in a more feminine way and women the justification to act in a more masculine way. Another definition of androgyny is “a condition under which the characteristics of the sexes, and the human impulses expressed by men and women are not rigidly assigned" (Guastello, et al., 2003).

When androgyny is viewed from a generational stance there are different variations of acceptance toward androgyny. Younger generations are more accepting of this term, and this generation is more likely to be pushed toward androgyny due to the dissolution of gender-typed rigidity (Guastello, et al., 2003). Older generations were found to not have quite the push toward androgyny. A side effect of androgyny is egalitarian marriage: “equal work outside and inside of the home” (Stanik, et al., 2012). There is more evidence of egalitarianism in younger generations associated with the term of androgyny. One study looked at the Korean population and gave this finding: “Androgyny in American culture explains a movement or shift in gender roles and expectations, the cultural influences of Korean culture helps to explain the perpetuation of traditional and strict gender roles in Korean women” (Shin, Yang, Edwards, 2010, pp. 270). With a shift in American culture it seemingly has an impact on Korean culture in the sense that it has remained stagnant.

This is a review of many different forms of literature that study gender roles and stereotypes. This a very important topic to study because it can help explain the evolvement of gender and also the aspect of androgyny in American society. Involvement in stereotypical gender roles are integral in society and at the same time they perpetuate the roles of women which drives women and the feminist movement to fight evermore expressively.


The significance to this research is to help combat female oppression and insignificance in society, especially pointed at the Christian community. This research will help add validity and research to the issues of prejudice and discrimination of both men and women in fields that traditional gender roles would not permit. This will help for the negative stigmas to be challenged, negative stigmas such as men staying home to raise children and not women as well as women working for primary household income. This will help speak to the Christian community about the inequality in treatment of both men and women and where passions lie.


When conducting our study, we focused on two particular age groups, one being our generation, 18-23 year olds and the older, 50 and over generation. We wanted to compare the two different generations and their views on gender stereotypes and how their religious views affect them. Both of these age groups were raised in different times, therefore we expected them to have different views on gender stereotypes due to our society that has been changing over time. When surveying participants, we wanted both male and female respondents and that is what we received, 266 overall participated in our survey, 69 (25.8%) of which were male and 197 (74.2%) which were female. Whether the participant was married or not played an important role in our research as well, in order to see if the gender roles were real for the respondent or if they were all hypothetical situations for them. 220 (82.7%) of the respondents claimed to be single while only 46 (17.3%) were married. A majority of the participants in this survey were Huntington University students enrolled in the undergraduate program, who fall into the 18-23 year old age range, are mostly single, and a majority of them are female.

When it came to dissecting the data, the Statistical Package for the Social Science (SPSS) was used in order to find if religion has any effect on the gender stereotypes that individuals may have. These variables that we wanted to investigate based on our results were comparing the participants views on stereotypes and what they would do in a hypothetical situation to what their parents did in the same situation, and how they were raised and the example their parents set when it came to gender roles. We also had different scenarios that asked what gender should do the certain task regarding the home, work, or even school, this variable of interest really helped in determining if there are any general gender stereotypes from the participant. Another major variable that gave us great results, was the different leadership roles within the church. The participants were given a list of different roles in the church from head pastor, to nursery worker, to door greeter, usher and many others and were supposed to choose whether they believed a male or female should fulfill the role within the church. This gave us a better understanding of how religion still plays into gender roles and certain stereotypes.

Our survey was made through Survey Monkey, this online link was then emailed to the whole undergraduate program at Huntington University, a small, private, liberal arts, and Christian school in Northern Indiana. Additional emails were sent to a local church, College Park, various adult small groups, in order to reach the older generation. Also, emails and Facebook messages were sent to the research teams’ family and friends who were over 50 years of age. Confidentiality was kept throughout the survey process, as it was an anonymous survey and the answers and the individual who completed the survey could not be matched up. Incentives were present with completing this survey, each participant could email that they completed the survey in order to get entered into a drawing for two different $10 Wal-Mart gift cards, which were then mailed to the winners.


When looking at the results we compared who should fill the different roles in the church. We had a series of questions to ask about what roles the men should fill, and then used those same questions to see which roles the women should fill. We found that men are to fill the roles of pastors, such as, head pastor and elder of the church. We also found that the women should primarily work with the children, so they would work in the nursery or as children's pastor. We ran other tests through SPSS but there was no correlation between them. We also asked the participants to rate the importance of religion, family, friends, history, and an option for other to see what was most important for planning their future. Family was the most important thing that people wanted in their future followed by religion. In this study we found that family and religion are the two most important things in peoples live.

Future studies

We will not personally study this further, however for future studies done on this subject it would be good to get a wider variation of religion as well as age. We did not have access to a bigger population at Huntington University, and there was not a wide variation in religion. We also thought it could be beneficial and interesting to do a longitudinal study, and give the same college students we studied this time the same survey in 40 years, and see how their answers have changed. We think that if this is done than a lot of answers will change as people have been out in the world, and have been married. We think that right now as college students the majority of our participants are still too young to have strong feelings about gender roles. They are at the age of doing the exact opposite of how their parents taught them and once they have lived out in the world longer they will have a more clear view of gender roles and what they believe.


Anderson, K. (1986). Androgyny, flexibility, and individualism. Journal of Personality Assessment, 50(2), 265.

Bernhardt, E. (2007). Female employment, social support and fertility. Pharmaceuticals Policy & Law, 9(1/2), 135-146.

Declaration on Bible, sexuality and gender. (2004). Ecumenical Review, 56(4), 459-460.

Endendijk, J., Groeneveld, M., Berkel, S., Hallers-Hallboom, E., & Mesman, J. (2013). Gender stereotypes in the family context: Mothers, fathers, and siblings. Sex Roles, 68, 577-590.

Fletcher, M. (2014). What comes into a woman and what comes out of a woman. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (Indiana University Press), 30(1), 25-41.

Grossman, P. (2013). Holding fast: The persistence and dominance of gender stereotypes. Economic Inquiry, 51(1), 747-763.

Guastello, D., & Gaustello, S. (2003). Androgyny, gender role behavior, and emotional intelligence among college students and their parents. Sex Roles, 49, 663-667.

Hively, K., & El-Alayli, A. (2014). “You throw like a girl:” The effect of stereotype threat on women’s athletic performance and gender stereotypes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15, 48-55.

Kjeldstad, R., & Lappengard, T. (2014). How do gender values and household practices cohere? Value-practice configurations in a gender-egalitarian context. NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, 22(3), 219-237.

Lin, Y., Xun, Y., Zhongjuan, L., & Zhimin, Y. (2014). Effects of subliminal affective priming on occupational gender stereotypes. Social Behavior & Personality: an international journal, 42, 145-153.

Lopez-Zafra, E., & Garcia-Retamero, R. (2012). Do gender stereotypes change? The dynamic of gender stereotypes in Spain. Journal of Gender Studies, 21(2), 169-183.

Ray, A., & Gold, S. (1996). Gender roles, aggression, and alcohol use in dating relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 33(1), 47-55.

Shin, K., Yang, J., & Edwards, C. (2010). Gender role identity among Korean and American college students: links to gender and academic achievement. Social Behavior & Personality: an international journal, 38(2), 267-272.

Stanik, C., & Bryant, C. (2012). Marital quality of newlywed African American couples: Implications of egalitarian gender role dynamics. Sex Roles, 66(3/4), 256-267.

Tait, C. (2014). Absurd masculinity: Will Ferrell’s time-bending comic persona. Communication Review, 17(3), 166-182.


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