When Anne Graham Lotz was a girl, she went on a 14-mile hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a friend. Eventually, they found themselves lost in a laurel thicket, unsure of the way home. “Laurel thickets can cover the side of a mountain, and you’re dense in thicket,” Lotz told CT. “You can’t see up, out, either side.” Fortunately, her friend had packed a compass, and with that compass, they were able to set their course for north and find their way out of the laurel thicket. “We got back to the trail that we had lost, and got to where we needed to be,” Lotz said, “and we were fine.”
Lotz compares that experience to how she approaches Bible reading each and every day. “When I get up in the morning and spend time with the Lord, it’s like setting my compass, so that regardless of which way I’m turned during the day, the needle turns north,” Lotz said. “My thoughts, my attention, they’re centered on the Lord.
Lotz’s commitment to daily time in the Word reflects the Bible engagement habits of many American women. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study reports that among evangelical Protestants, 66 percent of women read Scripture at least once a week, compared to 58 percent of men. While these Bible-reading habits may involve engaging with Scripture during a church service or midweek Bible study, women also outpace men when it comes to engaging with Scripture outside of church. According to the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey, 36 percent of Christian women spend weekly or daily time alone reading the Bible, compared to 29 percent of Christian men.
The 2020 State of the Bible survey, commissioned by the American Bible Society (ABS) and conducted by Barna, also finds that “women are more Scripture engaged than men.” It reports that more than half of American women (52%) are “Bible friendly,” “Bible engaged,” or “Bible centered,” compared to 47 percent of American men. The researchers used the term “Bible friendly” to describe those who “interact with the Bible consistently” and may consider it “a source of spiritual insight and wisdom.” The term “Bible engaged” described those who “interact with the Bible frequently … transforming their relationship with God and others.” Finally, “Bible centered” described those whose frequent interaction with Scripture transformed not just their relationships but also their choices.
The ABS report also notes that African Americans “are more Scripture engaged than other racial or ethnic groups.” Among black Christians, Pew reports a similar gender difference: 64 percent of black Christian women read the Bible at least once a week, compared to 56 percent of black Christian men.
So why are women leading in the area of Bible engagement? While the studies from Pew and the American Bible Society do not directly address the definitive cause of these findings, other research, bolstered by observations from key female Bible study authors, points toward possible sociological, cultural, and ecclesial reasons.
“More women read, for one thing,” said Sandra Glahn, a Dallas Theological Seminary professor and Bible study author, when asked about the elevated rate of Bible engagement among women. “We’ve known that for a long time. There are lots of theories as to why, but more women are buying books of any kind.”
Generally speaking, women and girls do tend to read more than men and boys. According to “Gender Differences in Reading and Writing Achievement” in American Psychologist, females read more than males in almost every developed country. From girlhood, females also read more thoroughly and have greater reading comprehension than males. Although most gender differences in cognitive abilities are considered small, trivial, or statistically insignificant, the difference in reading achievement “exceeds the threshold for non-trivial gender-difference effect sizes.” In simpler terms, the differences in language and reading between men and women are large enough to be significant and meaningful. Habits of frequent and thorough reading that women bring to other texts are likely an influential factor in women’s Scripture engagement.
Although some business experts suggest that flexible work schedules are the future of employment for both men and women, women have long prioritized flexibility in order to balance work and family life. Jackie Hill Perry, author of Gay Girl, Good God and a recent LifeWay Bible study on the Book of Jude, said, “It isn’t that women have more time—but I think women have more time at home.” Whether women are working from home or homeschooling, Perry believes this time at home and flexibility in daily schedule provides some women with more opportunities to dig into the Scriptures.