Religion Ain’t Sexy – But Why?

Religion in Britain is, generally speaking, undoubtedly in decline. According to the most recent round of the British Social Attitudes survey, a majority of Brits now consider themselves non-religious. As 18-24 year olds, only 25% believe in God at all. As religious people gradually move into minority status, the faithful remnant might find it harder and harder to find a date or, indeed, a mate. That is, if people actually care about religion when they’re looking for a partner. And if they do, dating websites like are making it easier and easier to filter out potential partners on the basis of religion. Tinder still lacks this option, but I get the feeling that religious people might be somewhat reluctant to sign up for hook-up apps just yet.

Our research, recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that people–at least in New Zealand and the United States–do care about religion when they are browsing online dating profiles, and there is no reason to think that the UK would be an exception. Across two studies, our research team from Oxford University in the UK, and the University of Otago in New Zealand and University of Maryland, USA, showed religious and non-religious people a series of dating profiles, ostensibly taken from online dating sites. Participants could see how religious the potential dating partners were as the profiles showed how frequently they attended religious services. What we found was that as potential partners’ service attendance increased, non-religious people were increasingly reluctant to date them. Religious people were a little less picky, it seemed. But why? Why are religious people less attractive to secular singles?

In our first study, participants also gave us their first impressions of each dating profile, by rating them on five major personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experiences. True to the stereotype of anally-retentive Christians–think the Puritans…and Ned Flanders in The Simpsons–non-religious participants generally thought that religious people were also more closed-minded. Our statistical model showed that there wasn’t a prejudice against religious people per se; rather, it’s the stereotype of religious people as being uptight that’s the problem. So, in the second study, we tried to see how people felt about religious people who were also obviously open to new experiences. This time, non-religious participants still preferred to date people who shared their unbelief, but the bias was much reduced when the religious person was also open-minded. Religious people also unsurprisingly preferred their own kind, though again they were less picky. And while they generally appeared to want less open minded partners, this preference was a mild one.

Now, it should be said that religious people are not necessarily actually more closed-minded than their secular counterparts. It’s true that religious fundamentalists are, but this is hardly surprising. But, according to another recent study, people of a more mature faith tend to be more open to new experiences. So, the stereotype might be a little misguided, or at least overly influenced by religious conservatives.

One piece of advice then, to the devoutly religious looking for love in an increasingly secularised world: make it as clear as possible that you’re curious about other perspectives and novel experiences. Otherwise, it might be best to hang out on niche dating sites like Christian Connection or J Date. Either that, or Tinder.

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