Stark, Rodney. "Chapter 5: The Role of Women in Christian Growth." The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997, 95-128.
Stark observes that Christianity has regularly proven attractive to women "because within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large" (Stark 1997, 95). Stark evaluates possible sociological explanations for this effect.
The Greco-Roman world as a whole is known to have suffered from a shortage of women. Exposure of unwanted children was considered acceptable, and it appears to Stark that families tended to retain very few daughters (Stark 1997, 97). Among adults, use of abortive agents and procedures increased the death rate of women.
The Christian culture took a more positive view of women. Stark notes that in literary remains and archaeological finds there is a large representation of women's names and women's clothing. This suggests that women were very well represented among Chrsitians (Stark 1997, 98). Stark sees this as related in part to the Christian prohibitions of abortion and infanticide. He also considesr that women were more liekly to convert to Christianity (Stark 1997, 99). For this reason we could expect a large percentage of Christians to be female.
Christianity is known to have been popular among women, and especially women of the upper classes (Stark 1997, 99). Stark notes that religious converts tend to be females, though related males often join as a result. This is true in both ancient and modern experience (Stark 1997, 100). The growth rate of Christianity over several generations would result in an abundance of females, who could then emerge as a large and influential group in the Church (Stark 1997, 101).
Wtark compares classical Athenian and Spartan views of women and finds that where women have been more populous, they have tended to have more freedom and respect (Stark 1997, 102-103). If this is the case, the multitude of Christian women would have been able to command considerable freedom and respect.
Stark notes that the Christian prohibitions of abortion, infanticide, divorce, and adulteray placed women in a position of respect (Stark 1997, 104). Christian women also tended to marry later than the Roman custom of about 12-13, typically waiting until their late teens. This may well have added to the respect accorded to women.
Stark speaks of numerous statements of Scripture which show women in positions of respect and even authority in the Christian community. He also observes records of deaconesses in various places (Stark 1997, 108). Stark does, at times, seem to recognize women in authority in the church rater as an effect of their power within the system, to a greater extent than this reader would find warranted in the New Testament texts. However, he does see rightely that women are by no means a servile and degraded group. The prominence of women in Christianity is also attested by a more sober fact - they are recorded as martyrs. The Romans would normally persecute and martyr key leaders. Many women are among the martyrs, suggesting they were seen as influential (Stark 1997, 110).
Stark recognizes that both Peter and Paul spoke of marriage between Chrsitians and non-Christians. He considers their statements about the stability of marriage to apply not only to those who converted after marrying, but also to allow a Christian to marry a non-Christian. However, he cites no teaching prior to the middle of the second century (Stark 1997, 111). Stark's argument is based on the relatively greater supply of women in Christian communities than in the pagan world, and the idea that women of rank would need to protect their station and wealth (Stark 1997, 112). The fact that there were many marriages of Christian women and pagan men cannot actually show apostolic approval of the practice. In fact, Stark uses condemnations of the practice among the patristic writings to assert that the practice was actually approved (Stark 1997, 113). Stark does acknowledge that Chrsitians who married outside the faith were very unliekly to leave Christianity .The record is replete with evidence that Chrsitians would remain faithful (Stark 1997, 114).
Fertility was apparently a problem in the Roman empire. Stark notes that laws were promulgated in 59 B.C., 29 B.C., and 9 A.D. giving benefits to people who fathered at least three children (Stark 1997, 115). The policies continued at least into the second century. Romans suffered from underpopulation, even more as a result of low fertility rates than due to warfare or plagues (Stark 1997, 116). Stark notes that marriage was considered unimportant, "especially in the upper classes" (Stark 1997, 117). Infanticide and abortion were also common, and widely approved as societal norms (Stark 1997, 118). Stark details some of the methods used for abortion, observing that they were very dangerous to the mother as well as the child (Stark 1997, 120). Birth control was also widespread. It was not unusual, then, for Romans to have small families and a shortage of women in particular (Stark 1997, 122).
Counter to the pagan society, Stark finds that writers in antiquity understood Christians to havea higher fertility rate (Stark 1997, 23). The value placed on marriage and children was certainly a major distinguishing factor of Christianity. Stark notes that Christians rejected both abortion and infanticide (Stark 1997, 124). Christian teacing about birth control may have been slightly more ambiguous, but Stark thinks it was a given among Christians not to engage in birth control. This would be consistent with Jewish customs (Stark 1997, 126). Add to these factors the greater survival rate of Christian women and we would expect to find an abundant supply of Christian women who would bear children.