Among all self-identified "rationalist" communities that I know of, and Less Wrong in particular, there is an obvious gender imbalance - a male/female ratio tilted strongly toward males.
Yet surely epistemic and instrumental rationality have no gender signature. There is no such thing as masculine probability theory or feminine decision theory.
There could be some entirely innocuous explanation for this imbalance. Perhaps, by sheer historical contingency, aspiring rationalists are recruited primarily from the atheist/libertarian/technophile cluster, which has a gender imbalance for its own reasons - having nothing to do with rationality or rationalists; and this is the entire explanation.
Uh huh. Sure.
If possible, let's try not to make things worse in the course of having this discussion. Remember that to name two parts of a community is to split that community - see the Robbers Cave experiment: Two labels → two groups. Let us try not to make some of our fellow rationalists feel singled-out as objects of scrutiny, here. But in the long run especially, it is not a good thing if half the potential audience is being actively filtered out; whatever the cause, the effect is noticeable, and we can't afford to ignore the question.
[I]t still seems likely that there is a real gender difference that needs explaining. So Sullins next takes the GSS gender differences at face value, and looks at how can they be explained.Here are the potential factors that he looks at:
- Demographic (age, education, and traditionalist values were important)
- Structural (hours worked, since long-working hours could crowd out religion)
- Socialization (parent's church attendance when the respondent was a child)
- Network (percent of friends in a congregation)
- Personality (independence, self-esteem, tender feeling, soft-hearted were the personality factors available)
- Fear (fear of walking down a dark street alone). Sullins calls this a measure of risk tolerance, but it really is no such thing. The additional fear that women have in this circumstance has nothing to do with risk tolerance, and everything to do with a genuinely higher risk!When all these factors are bundled in, gender differences in church attendance completely disappear, differences in prayer frequency drop by two thirds (compared with a model that only looked at demographic factors), and differences in the most problematic measure, self-reported religiousness, drop by 40%.What factors were most important? Well, the personality factors were about as important as structural, social, and network factors put together. Fear had a small effect on affective religion, but not on attendance. In other words, a small part of the reason that women pray more often is that they have greater fears for their personal security.But the most important single factor was the number of friends you have that are in a congregation. This is the social factor shining through. For both men and women, what your friends do has a powerful influence on what you do and how you think. It seems that one important reason that men are less religious is simply that they have fewer religious friends.