Does religiosity work?

Davey Meelker

Are Muslim women held back because of their religion? This is a much discussed question in today’s post-9/11 world. In this world, gender equality is plays an important role in the politics of Western Europe. In her recently published research, Van Oosten argues that gender equality is instrumentalized as a modern justification for scrutiny of (Muslim) immigrants. Especially Islam is targeted for its restrictive rules towards its female adherents. But how true are such statements? Van Oosten’s recent research in the Netherlands points out that Muslim female emancipation has nothing to do with religiosity.

Van Oosten, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam, conducted a study on the labour force participation of Muslim, Christian and unreligious women in the Netherlands. Labour force participation is widely presented as a key indicator of the emancipation and personal freedom of women. But maybe religiosity doesn’t actually play such a strong role as is always suggested in a woman’s choice to work.

According to the large scale survey that Van Oosten used, Muslim women do have the lowest working percentage. This means that Muslim women in the Netherlands have the lowest percentage of working more than 12 hours in the week, only 72%. Christian women don’t score a very high percentage either, only 77%. Unreligious women scored the highest, 86% of the unreligious women participate more than 12 hours per week in the labour force. Interestingly though, when studying the average number of hours working women work, Muslim women scored the highest: 31 hours per week. This is significantly higher than Christian women (29 hours a week) and unreligious women (30 hours a week).

Back to religiosity. Van Oosten studied religiosity in the form of a scale, a unique angle within the field of female labour force participation, with a low number indicating a low level of religiosity and high numbers indicating high levels of religiosity. In this way, the influence of the level of religiosity on labour force participation was tested, not only for the Muslim subset of society, but also for the Christian subset of society. This has been the first research to relate the level of religiosity to labour force participation of religious women in the Netherlands. Only once before this angle has been used in academic research worldwide.

Van Oosten used many survey questions to carry out this research. Over 2000 female respondents were asked a number of questions about their religiosity. It was asked how important religion is in their personal lives, how often they read religious books such as the Quran or the Bible, how often they pray, how often they attend religious gatherings and to what degree they believe God truly exists. Muslim women scored the highest on this scale. All of the scores were added together and a regression model was made to test the influence of religion on labour force participation. And what was the outcome? The level of religiosity doesn’t have any influence on the labour force participation of Muslim women, but it does (partially and to a limited extent) on Christian women.

Therefore, Van Oosten decided to take a number of other aspects of a woman’s life into account in her research. Whether a woman is a first-, second- or third-generation immigrant, educational attainment, gender attitudes, the presence of a partner and the presence of a child could also play a role in this equation and are therefore also analyzed in Van Oosten’s research. But the main question remains: does religiosity work?

This, and many more revealing questions, are tackled in Van Oosten’s extensive research, an enlightening read if you want to see how the truth is actually quite different from what one expects.

Shauna van Oosten, Does religiosity Work? is for sale at Find it by clicking here.

5 responses to “Does religiosity work?”

  1. hansvandemortel says :

    Does religiosity Work? Of course it does. But most of the time it works like an old vehicle with a lot of noice, without the power to move foreward.

    • Sanne says :

      But religiosity doesn’t have a downward pressure on Muslim women, which is interesting because probably a lot of people would think it does have a downward effect on Muslim women.

    • click here says :

      Good point. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way. 🙂

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