Exploring Gender Roles in Highly Religious Families


gender, gender roles, sexuality, religion



Many world religions explicitly and/or implicitly promote gender hierarchy and the patriarchal nature of gender roles is a nearly universal theme within these traditions. Notwithstanding the hierarchical patterns often apparent in religiously defined gender roles, complementarity in gender roles is also an essential characteristic of many religions.


Religious teachings regarding gender roles may dualistically foster relational health or cause relational harm—depending on the particular teachings and, perhaps most saliently, depending on how religious teachings are applied and lived out within marriages and families. We aim to explore, through interviews with highly religious wives and husbands, the influences and meanings that wives' and husbands' religious beliefs and practices have in connection with their perspectives and lived experience of gender roles in the context of marriage and family life.


We conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with 198 individuals using a racially and ethnically diverse sample consisting of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish families (N = 476 individuals). Questions regarding gender within relationships were not included on the interview questionnaire but gender-related issues spontaneously surfaced in many of the interviews. Participants’ comments involving gender were identified using NVivo 12 software and were then qualitatively analyzed using a team-based methodology (Marks in Current Psychol, 34(3): 494-505, 2015).


Two themes addressing the nexus of gender and religion were identified: Theme 1: Sanctity and Complementary Gender Roles in Sexual Relations; Theme 2: Interpreting and Safeguarding Gender Roles. Primary data excerpts are presented to illustrate each theme and implications and applications are discussed.

Conclusions and Implications

Professionals and individuals may examine how religious doctrine is translated into gender attitudes and roles. As individuals understand the many ways highly religious families view gender, gender roles, and gender attitudes, they may be open to examining a wider range of gender interpretations that still remain consistent with their doctrine.

Original Publication Citation

Leavitt, C. E., Allsop, D. B., Price, A. A., Marks, L. D. & Dollahite, D. C. (2021). Exploring gender roles in highly religious families. Review of Religious Research, 63, 511-533. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-021-00476-9

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Review of Religious Research




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor