A man’s hands folded in prayer. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Black men reverse the gender split on religion, research shows

(RNS) — Historically, women tend to be the stalwarts when it comes to religion, while men attend religious services less often and are less likely to say their faith is very important to them. But a new analysis shows that black men defy this trend.

A study by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday (Sept. 26) has found that while black men are less religious than black women, they are more religious than white women and white men.

African-American men are equally as likely as Hispanic women to be what Pew considers "highly religious," so they are tied as the second-most religious group.

The findings are not entirely surprising, given earlier data on African-American faith. In general, Pew has found, African-Americans are more religious than whites and Latinos, and they are more likely to say they read the Bible regularly and consider it to be the Word of God.

Sixty-nine percent of black men in Pew's study say religion is very important, while 78 percent say they believe in God with absolute certainty and 70 percent are considered highly religious.

“Highly religious,” according to Pew, includes those who pray at least once a day, attend religious services at least once a week, are absolutely certain about their belief in God and say religion is very important in their lives.

“Most black men are highly religous — but not as religious as black women” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

While 7 in 10 black men fit that description, 83 percent of black women are highly religious, Pew says. About two-thirds of Hispanic women, 58 percent of white women, half of Hispanic men and 44 percent of white men are considered very religious.

Across generations, researchers report differences. Fewer than 4 in 10 African-American millennials say they attend services weekly, compared with half of older blacks. Six in 10 of black millennials say they pray daily; in comparison, 78 percent older blacks report praying daily.

The Pew analysis is based on data from its 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. The margin of error for black men was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points and was lower for the other groups.


  1. Too bad these race and gender segments don’t agree more with each other about what religion is and what it is supposed to do.

  2. It might be interesting to distinguish “white” Hispanics from “non-white” Hispanics.

  3. “Several studies and surveys reveal black Americans retain remarkably strong levels of religious beliefs and practices. And that spiritual core is having an impact on community life in areas from health to economic empowerment.

    Researchers found that blacks scored higher than whites on seven of nine virtues. The results indicated that, compared to whites, blacks were more humble, more grateful to God, felt more compassion for strangers and were likelier to provide emotional support and tangible help to people they do not know.”


    “The purpose of this study is to see if race differences emerge in 9 virtues: gratitude to God, humility, compassion for family and friends, compassion for strangers, providing emotional support to family and friends, providing tangible support to family and friends, providing emotional support to strangers, providing tangible support to strangers, and forgiving others. The data for this study come from a recent nationwide survey. Race differences were present in seven of the nine virtues, and in each instance the findings indicate that Blacks have higher virtue scores than Whites. The results further reveal that Blacks are likely to have higher virtue scores than Whites because they are more committed to their faith than Whites.”


  4. What is religion?
    From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
    -Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
    -A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
    -The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
    -A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
    -A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

    See several additional, but essentially similar definitions at https://www.wordnik.com/words/religion There isn’t a lot of disagreement about the definition of religion.

    Specifically for African-Americans: 87% affiliated with a religion with 79% saying that “religion is very important in their life”, compared with 83% and 56% respectively. for the whole of the US. The population is largely Christian, with 83% of black Americans identifying as Christian, including 45% who identify as Baptist. Catholics account for 5% of the population. 1% identify as Muslim. About 12% of African American people do not have a religion and identify as atheist or agnostic, slightly lower than the figure for the whole of the USA. See http://blackdemographics.com/culture/religion/ There isn’t a whole lot of disagreement about what is a Baptist or a Catholic, an atheist, or an agnostic.

    What is religion supposed to do? The answer may vary from one faith tradition to another, but many faith traditions emphasize the importance of adopting a range of virtues. The recognized spiritual masters of the great religion traditions have taught that we need to adopt and develop higher qualities such as love, mercy, generosity, kindness and so on. The exact list and their order of importance may vary, but there is a general consensus on this as famously delineated by religion scholar Huston Smith.


    The particular study in the above reference looked at nine virtues: gratitude to God, humility, compassion for family and friends, compassion for strangers, providing emotional support to family and friends, providing tangible support to family and friends, providing emotional support to strangers, providing tangible support to strangers, and forgiving others. Most faith traditions would recognize these as important virtues related to their faith. I don’t think most blacks or whites would quibble with this list as far as being important and related to their religion.

  5. My experiences in the comment sections lately have caused me to run into a number of people from religion who are thoroughly enjoying derision of what they call the Social Justice Warriors, or SJWs (as they abbreviate) in the era of Trumpism Tell me how a white man, white woman, black man, black woman, Hispanic man, Hispanic woman (each from a church) individually reacts to those making fun of the SJWs and I’ll show you some people who fundamentally do not agree on what religion is or what it is for.

  6. So your definition of religion and its purpose is primarily about contemporary politics?

  7. I would say that the definition of religion is about politics, and always has been…

    Every time, left or right, that religion wants to fornicate with the state.

  8. It would be interesting to add non-married parents to the question.

  9. Only, of course, AFTER the LBGTQ etc lobby has fornicated with the state.

  10. No, my definition of religion and its purpose is primarily about whether it makes men and women more kind and cooperative toward each other or whether it makes men and women more wary of—–and competitive with—-each other. Another way of thinking about that would ask whether religion is a leveler which diminishes classism or a tool used to justify the classism which would otherwise exist without religion in the mix. In other times of history, for instance, does religion recognize that God could not possibly have intended for some people to literally own other people, or is religion (from religious writings) available as a witness to say “Well, yes, God has been known to permit such things, so presumably He could again”. Does religion ask us to love each other unconditionally——expressed in observable tangible ways—–or does it ask us to pay greater respect to maintaining and defending our stations in life as they appear to have been assigned?

    Net, net, I guess I am a “fruit-focused” sort of guy. What does religion cause people to say and do? In Christianity, is it Ten Commandments or two commandments?

  11. So we are in agreement then that on average in America black men are more religious than white men and white women and that reflects credit on black men.

  12. Christianity did not begin as a state church. Even in the Middle Ages, it was commonly recognized that Church and Crown held separate and distinct roles. Christian sects persecuted by state churches (e.g. anabaptists and other “radical” Protestants) strongly favored the religious freedom that eventually became enshrined in the 1st Amendment. As James Madison put it, “…Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Gov.” [James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822, The Writings of James Madison, Gaillard Hunt]

    See https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/james-madison-and-religious-liberty

  13. If you are not disputing the Pew findings described in this article, I am not either, and that makes us in agreement on that research. Whether “credit” is to be ascribed to any men or women on the basis of how much “more religious” they might be than someone else, that depends entirely on what they believe and what they do with it. For instance, there might be measures by which to show that Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hasidic Jews, Old-Order Amish, and certain Muslims are “more religious” than most other people because of the extraordinary effort and inconvenience they may be imposing on themselves to hold to certain beliefs and practices. Some of those people may be black as well. Who knows? But “more religious” does not necessarily mean a reason for “credit”. Some of it is mostly anti-social at the root.

    Your last few words are a trick query to me, IMHO, designed for what purpose I would not know. If it is to conclude that the more people call the Bible the Word of God, the better they are, I don’t bite it. Too many of those folks are crazy as hootie owls these days, whether black, white, male or female. I could remind you that you are suggesting that Obama’s attendance at Reverend Wright’s church should have been appreciated by average white people, but nah, most white churchgoers never agreed.

  14. Nothing tricky at all. The Pew survey measured religiosity by exhibited virtues. Then you claim religion costs effort and is inconvenient. Well, being a good Samaritan does require effort and can be inconvenient. Do you believe African-American who are religious are anti-social at the root? Do you believe they deserve any credit for their virtues, virtues which the Pew survey associates with religion?

    I note that the original post documents that average white people are less religious than African-Americans. I also note that the various religious minorities you listed are not average white people. Your comments seem less than fully coherent, except to disparage religion, which doesn’t seem very friendly.

    FYI I voted for President Obama. I even gave money to his campaign.

  15. Do you consider the lobbying efforts and political efforts by the leadership and membership of the historically African-American denominations for laws ending racial segregation to be “fornicating with the state,” to use your phrase? Do you think those efforts by those churches was a bad thing? It did mix religion and politics, albeit not in a way the violated the 1st Amendment.

  16. Exactly, per you: NOT IN A WAY THAT VIOLATED THE FIRST A,ENDMENT, or anyone else,s rights and participation in society.

    In other words, Didthey try to force purely theological views and concerns on people who didn’t share them, or did they demand justice, freedom, and equality for themselves when the constitution of this country made promises to them?

  17. Good, I am glad you voted for Obama and supported his campaign. I also am glad for every black man and black woman who calls Jesus his or her savior, who wants more than anything to love God and love all of his or her neighbors. White people too. Brown people too.

    Today, we have reason to question the motivations of some religions and some religious people. A lot of it has been turned upside down and backwards, from some Muslims who want to behave like ISIS to some Jews who want Israel to be overbearing no matter what, to some Christians in Russia perpetuating Putin, to some Christians in America who are running with Trump, Limbaugh, Hannity, Kudlow and Bannon and are spiritually confining themselves to little more than disdaining gay people in their so-called “religious freedom”.

    When we just talk about “religion” or “religious” or “religiosity” in single-word generalities, I am now wary of it (for good reason). “Religion” in history has really, really misled and mistreated a lot of people. It also sometimes makes people kind and better. It is all in the details of what individual people are saying and doing. So, is there something specific you would like to discuss together about all this?

  18. They certainly tried to force their views on integration, which some held as part of their faith, on segregationists who didn’t share those beliefs. Segregationists believed their rights were being violated by forced integration and could point to a long list of court promises made to them by the courts, including Plessy v. Ferguson at the Supreme Court level. Everyone can claim “rights,” and eventually some rights come into conflict with others.

    All the religions arising in or lineally descended from what Karl Jaspers called the axial age, have strong universal elements. The axial age produced Confucius and Lao-Tse in China, Buddha in India, Zarathustra in Iran, and Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah in Palestine. A frequent commenter here denies their existence, but their influence is undeniable. African-American Christianity, descending from Judaism as the forerunner of Christianity and strongly influenced by Old Testament texts, embraces those insights. So why deny their roots? Without those religious roots modern secular revolutionary movements in France, Russia, and China, to name just three, have gone seriously off the rails.

    Under the Constitution everyone is allowed their own own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life, in justice Kennedy’s words. Just because those concepts can be traced to the Old Testament (“Let my people go.”), doesn’t mean you can’t advocate based on your religiously-informed philosophy. That is the essence of liberty if Justice Kennedy is to be believed. Now if someone tries to set up a state church or, for example, dictate a church’s hiring practices (See the unanimous Hosanna-Tabor decision.), that is unconstitutional. The state doesn’t automatically get to win if theological and religious views conflict with the state agency’s views, even when based on EEOC law and policy.

  19. What I find curious is that men are consistently less religious than women in all the groups surveyed. Also whites are consistently less religious than Hispanics and Blacks. It also appears that the young are less religious than the old.

    I wonder why.

  20. Sure, segregationists believed their rights were being violated, even while they were violating the civil rights of black people. It’s exactly the same thing as religious conservatives today are doing as they whine that their freedom of religion is being violated because other people don’t believe what they do. Nothing changes ihat: when you are used to being on top, any challengeto that looks like persecution.

    The courts, the congress, the legislatures, and eventually the people all changed their minds about racial segregation and inequality, just as they are now doing about gay people.

    The right tot a total ahole was indeed enshrined in the law as far as race is concerned, just like it has been enshrined regarding the position of women, of Jews, of gay people, and everyone else. Equality before the law is simply that— equality. All people in the same circumstances treated the same by the law.

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