Women, money and gender bias

By Ania Norori, MBA, ChFC®

Over the past 70 years, women’s participation in the U.S. workforce has grown significantly. Although they are working more hours and earning higher degrees, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Gender plays a role in compensation overall in the U.S. population; however, it is more pronounced for clergywomen.

Ministers’ salaries are already low given the scope of their work demands. Salaries are even lower for female clergy for a variety of reasons, as research shows the majority of them are pastoring smaller churches and serving in associate pastor-level positions.1


For example, in the Episcopal Church, full-time male clergy earn an average of $12,000 more a year than female clergy. And in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, full-time male clergy earn $8,000 more a year than full-time female clergy2. In denominations that ordain female clergy, they are more likely to be offered and feel compelled to accept lower-paying positions. Another contributing factor is that many women have fewer years in ministry than most men due to childbearing, child rearing and other family caregiving responsibilities.3 Data also shows that salaries for female clergy start at lower levels than men and the disparity is consistent over time. Additionally, male clergy are typically offered a higher salary than female clergy for the same position.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research4, women earn more bachelor and graduate college degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data, including the clergy. The pay disparity becomes magnified by the amount of student debt that has increased in recent years. The percentage of Master of Divinity (MDiv) students incurring debt has climbed steadily, rising from 54 percent in 2002 to 64 percent in 2014. The average debt incurred while attending seminary also increased, from $26,100 in 2008 to $36, 807 in 2016. Concurrently, the amount of debt that students have brought to seminary also increased; the proportion of MDiv students bringing $20,000 or more of debt nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017 from 14.9 to 29.3 percent, according to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS)5.

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Education debt is usually seen as an investment for future earnings, but for clergy this is not necessarily true, especially for women. To justify the cumulative amount of debt incurred for an MDiv degree, the graduate would require a starting salary of $65,000 to meet the monthly repayment guidelines — much higher than the starting salary for most clergy, male and female. According to payscale.com, the average salary for an MDiv graduate is $53,743. The salary range for men is between $35,000 and $92,000, while the salary range for women is $35,000 to $80,000. According to an article published in the journal, Sociology of Religion in 2017, clergy had a distinct income disadvantage compared to others with similar education. Among male clergy, the disparity became steadily worse. Male clergy made
30 percent less than their educational peers in 1976 and 44 percent less in 2016. For female clergy, the income disparity has stayed the same for the past 30 years, at 29 percent. Female clergy continue to earn less than similarly educated women in the larger workforce, and the income disparity between male and female clergy persists. In a study conducted as recently as August 2020 by the analytics team of MMBB Financial Services for ABCUSA, the median salary for male ordained ministers was $52,000. For ordained female clergy the median salary was $40,160, almost $12,000 less.6

The state of “pay”

Closing the gender wage gap — the difference in earnings between women and men — will take many more years. Women have made tremendous strides during the last few decades by moving into jobs and occupations previously held almost exclusively by men, including the pastorate. Yet during the last two decades, there has been very little meaningful progress in the “gender integration” of work, or compensating men and women equally for the same work. Persistent pay inequality can have far-reaching economic consequences. According to a recent regression analysis of federal data by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research2, equal pay for women would cut poverty levels among working women and their families by more than half.

In a recently published article by Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson, The Challenge of Ministry Given Pay Inequity7, she discusses how discrimination and income inequality increase the challenges for clergywomen. However, she does have hope for the future of clergywomen. In the article, Dr. Jackson writes, “I remain hopeful because clergywomen are demonstrating negotiation savvy as they navigate opportunities. Traditionally, women have not negotiated for their compensation packages. Increasingly, however, women are understanding their worth by researching opportunities. They are leveraging strategies like negotiating for maximized retirement benefits, semi-annual salary reviews and non-cash benefits such as additional vacation time or study leave. Women have learned that these strategies are particularly helpful when cash packages are constrained due to the financial challenges of the church.” Dr. Jackson goes on to say, “The work continues to be challenging and those challenges are made more difficult because of discrimination and inequity. Yet, God continues to make ways for God’s daughters to lead, equipping the called with mentors, role models, and resources to make ministry possible. Therefore, I have hope.”

While clergywomen have made progress, much work remains to be done for women overall to achieve pay equality. To close the gender wage gap, lawmakers must enact updated comprehensive equal pay legislation that will strengthen existing protections and further combat discrimination as well as impact the broader societal practices that are visible even in our churches.

1 christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/what-pastors-get-paid-and-why-it’s-not-enough

2 Ibid

3 Ibid

4 https://iwpr.org/publications/the-gender-wage-gap-and-public-policy/

5 https://www.ats.edu/research-educational-debt-and-institutional-finances

6 Analysis, MMBB Financial Services for ABCUSA Women in Ministry, August 2020

7 The Challenge of Ministry Given Pay Inequity by Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson appeared in the MMBB Tomorrow newsletter.

Ania Norori is Director of Lilly Endowment, Inc. Programs at MMBB Financial Services. She served in both business operations and financial advising at Lehman Brothers, Barclays Capital, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch. Norori has also held leadership positions with New Jersey’s Latino Ministries, including Vice Treasurer, Vice President, and President of the “Concentracion de las Iglesias Bautistas Latinas” as well as ABCUSA National Hispanic Caucus Secretary, and ABCNJ Vice President of Finance. She holds an MBA of Finance, a B.S. in Business Administration — Marketing from New Jersey City University, NJ, a Certificate in Christian Ministry from New York Theological Seminary and is a Chartered Financial Consultant®.


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