Gender Differences in Spiritual Well-Being:
Are Females More Spiritually-Well Than Males?
Subject: Spiritual formation (Research), Spiritual formation (Demographic aspects), Spiritual life (Research)
Authors: Hammermeister, Jon; Flint, Matt; El-Alayli, Amani; Ridnour, Heather; Peterson, Margaret
Abstract: This investigation examined the relationship between gender and spiritual well-being. This study assessed the hypothesis that gender differences may exist across spiritual health, which may in turn be related to other psychosocial health variables (Hammermeister & Peterson, 2001). Participants were 435 college students at two colleges in the Pacific Northwest. Results showed that females reported higher values on the measures of spiritual health than their male peers. Results of this study are the first to suggest that spiritual well-being may vary across gender.
Spiritual well-being appears to have a positive influence on most aspects of health (Carson, Soeken, & Grimm, 1988; Ellison & Smith, 1991; Fehring, Brennan, & Keller, 1987; Hammermeister, Flint, Havens, & Peterson, 2001; Hammermeister & Peterson, 2001; Hodges, 1988; Landis, 1996; Miller, 1985; Waite, Hawks, & Gast, 1999; Zautra, Manne, & Sharon, 1992). Spiritual well-being can be defined as a sense of relatedness or connectedness to others, a provision for meaning and purpose in life, the fostering of well-being (through a stress buffering effect), and having a belief in and a relationship with a power higher than the self (Hawks, Hull, Thalman, & Richins, 1995). In light of the evidence supporting the association between spiritual well-being and many aspects of health, it is surprising that inadequate attention has been paid to the examination of gender effects in this area. This paper will explore the hypothesis that gender effects may exist across the varying dimensions of spiritual well-being.
GENDER DIFFERENCES IN SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING
Gender differences have not been assessed in the peer-reviewed spiritual well-being literature. Kellums (1995) found that minor gender effects might be present in the Spiritual Well-Being Scale; however, these effects were quite small (less than 2% of the variance on only 6 items) suggesting little practical importance. Other literature examining gender and spiritual well-being,
to date, does not exist. A closely related concept, religiosity, has been more extensively examined for gender effects and will be reviewed here.
GENDER DIFFERENCES IN RELIGIOSITY
Gender differences in religiosity, which is a narrower subset of spiritual well-being, is garnering more attention in the peer-reviewed literature (Argyle & Beit-Hallahmi, 1975; Bengtson, Kasschau, & Ragan, 1977; Blazer & Palmore, 1976; Cornwall, 1989; de Vaus & McAllister, 1987; Francis & Wilcox, 1996; Helode, 1985; Koenig, Kvale, & Ferrel, 1988; Levin, Taylor, & Chatter 1994; Miller & Hoffman, 1995; Roof, 1978). An emergent theme throughout the religiosity and gender literature is the more religious nature of females. This finding appears to be related to their different socialization, expected roles, life experiences, and coping mechanisms relative to males. Levin (1994) suggests that the roles, traits and behaviors socially ascribed to females are more compatible with some general religious tenets and/or principles. For example, females are often socialized to nurture, cooperate, regulate emotions, and seek social approval through external sources more than males. In addition, Levin (1989) found that female health-related behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco consumption more closely mirror religious beliefs. Although spirituality and religiosity are often defined and measured differently, their influence and association with one another is intuitive and indisputable.
Gender differences are apparent in the religiosity literature; however, gender differences in spiritual well-being have not been previously investigated. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine gender differences across the varying dimensions of spiritual well-being. The primary hypothesis to be explored is that females will display higher spiritual well-being, given that they are higher in religiosity. College students were used as the sample in this study because they provided a sample of convenience for this particular investigation.
Data was collected in 1999 and 2000 as part of a larger project (Hammermeister et al., 2001; Hammermeister & Peterson, 2001) examining the role spiritual and religious well-being plays in the psychosocial health of college students. Data regarding gender effects on spiritual well-being have not been previously reported until now.
A survey assessing multiple dimensions of health was administered to 435 college students who were enrolled in a required health and fitness course at two separate colleges in the Pacific Northwest. Response rate from both colleges combined was 435 out of 856, or 51%. The course content and material was similar at both colleges.
The survey consisted of 176 items, including questions regarding current physical health indicators and indications of health-related behaviors. The survey also included the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (Ellison & Smith, 1991). The Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) consists of 20 questions scored on a Likert scale ranging from 1, strongly disagree, to 6, strongly agree. The SWBS produces two subscales, an existential well-being scale, which measures the participants’ relationship with their environment, and a religious well-being scale that measures the participants’ relationship with a higher power (God). The two subscales then combine to produce a total spiritual well-being score. The SWBS has been used in over 300 research endeavors and has consistently demonstrated its validity and reliably in measuring spiritual health (Ellison & Smith, 1991). The SWBS has been administered to a number of populations, including individuals in the health care profession, people suffering from chronic illness and people who have rated themselves as either Christians or non-Christians (Ellison & Smith, 1991). In addition to correlating positively to lowered blood pressure and ideal body weight, individuals scoring high in spiritual well-being also tend to score high on psychological and relational scales (Ellison & Smith, 1991). The questionnaire also had questions related to drug and alcohol use, exercise frequency, thoughts about suicide, and other basic demographic information (e.g., age, marital status, year in school), which were not utilized in this manuscript.
Participants were recruited from students enrolled in a required health and fitness course offered at two separate colleges in the Pacific Northwest. At one college, students were recruited during one of their physical activity sessions, while at the other college students were recruited during their classroom meetings. Participants were informed that their participation was both anonymous and voluntary.
Analysis of variance (ANOVA), with follow-up least squares means analysis, was employed to compare gender on the SWBS variables of interest. The dependent variables were the religious well-being scale, the existential well being scale, and the cumulative SWBS. Alpha was set at .01 for ANOVA analyses to decrease the probability of Type I errors associated with multiple comparisons while not severely limiting statistical power.
Males accounted for 39.5% (n = 172) while females comprised 60.5% (n = 263) of the sample. The vast majority of the participants reported their race as Caucasians (83.8%), with a smaller percentage (8.3%) reporting their race as African American. These self-report ethnic frequencies accurately reflect the racial distributions at these two colleges. Approximately 11% of the participants were freshmen (n = 49), 69.3% sophomores (n = 320), 13.1% juniors (n = 60), and 7.1% were seniors (n = 33). Ages ranged from 16 to 62 years, with a mean age of 23.0 (SD = 6.9) for males, and 22.0 (SD = 6.5) for females.
Alpha coefficients (Cronbach, 1951) were calculated for the following scales: the Spiritual Well Being Scale ([alpha] = .89), the Religious Well-Being subscale ([alpha] = .95), and the Existential Well-Being subscale ([alpha] =.83). Thus, all of the psychosocial subscales used in this study displayed good internal consistency (e.g., alpha coefficients > .70) and were retained for subsequent analyses.
LEAST SQUARES MEANS COMPARISONS FOR GENDER
Significant main effects of gender were found for the following: religious well-being, F(1, 416) = 14.21; p = .0002), existential well-being F(1,416) = 7.21; p = 008) and spiritual well-being F(1,416) = 16.51; p = .0001). Means, standard deviations, and least squares means results for each gender are reported in Table 1.
This study, which included a relatively large number (n = 435) of college students, is the first to clearly establish that gender differences exist in spiritual well-being. Several interesting results were found in relation to the variables of interest. First, this study shows that gender effects may exist in religious, existential, and spiritual well-being. In this sample females scored higher on all three measures of spiritual well-being than males. While no published research identifies gender effects in the spiritual well-being literature, the results of this study are similar to the findings of Kellums (1995), who found that minor gender effects might be present in the Spiritual Well-Being Scale. However, the magnitudes of the differences found in this study were much larger than those Kellums (1995) reported, and are found across both subscales of the SWBS, as well as the measure as a whole.
The findings also appear to be congruent with the religiosity and gender literature. An emergent theme throughout the religiosity literature is the more religious tendencies of females versus males (Argyle & Beit-Hallahmi, 1975; Bengtson et al., 1977; Blazer & Palmore, 1976; Cornwall, 1989; de Vans & McAllister, 1987; Francis & Wilcox, 1996; Helode, 1985; Koenig et al., 1988; Levin et al., 1994; Miller & Hoffman, 1995; Roof, 1978). As mentioned, this finding seems to be related to their different socialization, expected roles, life experiences, and coping strategies relative to males. These may be the mechanisms behind the results found in the present study. Females in this sample may have been socialized to nurture, cooperate, regulate emotions, and seek social approval through external sources more than their male counterparts. Readers should be cautioned that socialization variables were not accounted for in this study, therefore the mechanism behind this finding still remains indefinite.
The role spiritual well-being plays in an individual’s health is fairly well-established (Ellison & Smith, 1991; Hammermeiste et al., 2001; Hammermeister & Peterson, 2001; Landis, 1996). Thus, the identification of a group (i.e., males) which displays lower levels of a construct strongly associated with overall health is an important finding. Health education and psychology practitioners may wish to identify male college students as an important group for spiritual well-being interventions as a means to enhance other aspects of their health. Specifically,
interventions which stress the key components of spiritual well-being (e.g., a sense of relatedness or connectedness to others, a provision for meaning and purpose in life, the fostering of well-being, and having a belief in and a relationship with a power higher than the self) may be useful in helping this group attain spiritual well-being values similar to their female counterparts.
FUTURE RESEARCH IMPLICATIONS
In order to support the above ideas, further research into the effects of gender and spiritual well-being are needed. Specifically, more research is needed with populations other than college students, and especially with populations who have manifested significant physical risk factors for disease. Furthermore, the mechanisms behind these findings, be they socialization, biological, or environmental, still remain unknown and warrant further exploration.
While this exploratory study of the role that gender plays in spiritual well-being shows relatively strong associations, these findings should be taken with a degree of caution. Specifically, inferences regarding the mechanisms behind the gender differences in spiritual well-being cannot be made due to the methodological limitations of this study. Future research should explore this promising area for health enhancement with designs that will allow for assessment of causality and potential underlying mechanisms by including tools such as socialization instruments, coping assessments, stress and anxiety questionnaires, physiological measures, and other instruments which can cast light on the mechanisms responsible for gender differences in spiritual well-being. Such future work can allow for more informed interventions designed to enhance spiritual well-being in both males and females.
Responsibility I–Assessing Individual and Community Needs for Health Education
Competency A–Obtain health related data about social and cultural environments, growth and development factors, needs, and interests
Competency B–Distinguish between behaviors that foster and those that hinder well-being
Responsibility VII–Communicating Health and Health Education Needs, Concerns, and Resources
Competency A–Interpret concepts, purposes, and theories of health education
Responsibility VIII–Apply Appropriate Research Principles and Methods in Health Education
Competency C–Apply research to health education practice
Responsibility X–Advancing the Profession of Health Education
Competency A–Provide a critical analysis of current and future needs in health education
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Promotion, 9, 371-378. Helode, R. D. (1985). Religiosity as a function of sex and employment status. Indian Psychological Review, 28(2), 10-13. Hodges, M. (1988). Relationship of spiritual well-being to psychological well-being in bereaved parents. Unpublished master’s thesis, Mississippi University for Women, Columbus, MS. Kellums, K. J. (1995). Gender analysis of the spiritual well-being scale. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Fox University, Newberg, OR. Koenig, H. G., Kvale, J. N., & Ferrel, C. (1988). Religion and well-being in later life. The Gerontologist, 28, 18-28. Landis, B. J. (1996). Uncertainty, spiritual well-being, and psychosocial adjustment of chronic illness. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 17(3), 217-231. Levin, J. S. (1989). Religious factors in aging, adjustment, and health: A theoretical overview. In W. M. Clements (Ed.), Religion, Aging and Health: A Global Perspective. Compiled by the World Health Organization. New York: The Haworth Press. Levin, J. S. (1994). Religion in aging and health. Theoretical Foundations and Methodological Frontiers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Levin, J. S., Taylor, R. J., & Chatters, L. M. (1994). Race and gender differences in religiosity among older adults: Findings from four national surveys. Journal of Gerontology, 49(3), 137-145. Miller, A., & Hoffman, J. (1995). Risk and religion: An explanation of gender differences in religiosity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 34(1), 63-75. Miller, J. (1985). Assessment of loneliness and spiritual well-being in chronically ill and healthy adults. Journal of Professional Nursing, 1, 79-85. Roof, W. C. (1978). Social correlates of religious involvement. Annual Review of the Social Sciences of Religion, 2, 53-70. Waite, P. J., Hawks, S. R., & Gast, J. A. (1999). The correlation between spiritual well-being and health behaviors. American Journal of Health Promotion, 13(3), 159-162. Zautra, A. J., Manne, S. L., & Sharon, L. (1992). Coping with rheumatoid arthritis: A review of a decade of research. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 14(1), 31-39. Jon Hammermeister. PhD, Matt Flint, PhD, Amani El-Alayli, PhD, Heather Ridnour, MS are affiliated with Easter Washington University. Margaret Peterson, EdD is affiliated with Central Oregon Community College. Address all correspondence to Jon Hammermeister, PhD, PEB 200,
Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA 99004; PHONE: 509-359-7968; FAX: 509-359-4833; E-MAIL: [email protected]
Table 1. Least Squares Means Results for Gender on Three Spiritual Well-Being Measures
(n = 172) (n = 263)
SWBS Instrument M SD M SD F p
Religious Well-Being 41.0 13.6 45.9 12.2 14.2 .0002
Existential Well-Being 47.3 8.4 49.3 7.4 7.2 .008
Spiritual Well-Being 88.5 18.7 95.5 16.5 15.9 .0001
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