Women, clergypersons of color earn less
Less seniority, lower-paying pulpits lend to pay gaps
by Kristin Knudson
U.S. clergywomen in The United Methodist Church on average earn 13% less than their male counterparts, and clergypersons of color—Black, Hispanic/Latina, Native American, Asian- and Pacific Island-Americans—earn 9% to 15% less than white clergy.
These were the finding of a recent study of U.S. clergy salaries, led by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), with support from the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW), the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) and United Methodist Communications (UMCom).
The study found that race and gender do play a role in clergy salaries. However, researchers Eric B. Johnson of the Princeton Center for the Study of Religion and the Rev. Hee An Choi of the Anna Howard Shaw Center at Boston University School of Theology explain that the gender and race gaps also stem from different causes:
» The gender gap is due largely to differences in seniority between male and female pastors, and can be expected to decrease over time as female pastors gain seniority.
» The race gap results from the assignment of non-white pastors to congregations that pay lower salaries.
This study, which tracks salary of clergy serving the church between 1997 and 2008, is the first-ever attempt to research United Methodist clergy pay and any impact according to race/ethnicity and gender, according to the the Rev. HiRho Park, GBHEM’s director of continuing formation for ministry.
Among the study’s other findings
» Associate pastors and part-time pastors earn about 30% less than elders who are lead or sole pastors.
» There is only a moderate gap (approximately 10%) between salaries for full-time local pastors versus elders.
» Average pastor salaries differ substantially among U.S. annual conferences. Even after adjusting for variation in average salaries due to congregational, appointment and personal characteristics, more than $14,000 separates the conference with the highest average salary from the lowest.
» The gender gap also differs among annual conferences and is generally greater in the Southeastern and South Central jurisdictions.
Johnson of the Princeton Center is a specialist in the dynamic interaction between large-scale institutions and concrete social processes. Choi, who is also a lecturer at Boston University School of Theology, is a specialist in women’s studies and theology in multicultural and post-colonial contexts.
Combining their specialties, Choi and Johnson give The United Methodist Church a look into how the denomination fares with regard to salaries of male, female, and racial-ethnic clergy within the religious community and in comparison to secular salaries.
U.S. salaries on rise
According to Johnson’s summary, U.S. clergy salaries overall have increased substantially over the study period (1997-2008), exceeding the general rate of inflation by approximately 2% per year, resulting in a 20% total increase over the past decade. (It is important to remember that this study examines salaries among clergy only in the United States.)
And while race/ethnicity and gender differences are evident, it is the size of congregations served that is the largest differentiating factor for pastor salaries, reflecting the importance of appointment status as a mark of “upward mobility” for pastors.
The study finds that women and racial/ethnic pastors receive lower compensation, not because of education or seniority, but mainly because cabinets consistently appoint women and racial/ethnic pastors to congregations and multi-church charges that pay lower salaries.
The differences in how appointments are made within annual conferences as well as the various formal and informal practices regarding salary setting made the statistical analysis challenging, however, Johnson started with a baseline of five possible predictors of pastor’s salaries:
- Gender and race
- Congregation attributes
- Seniority of the pastor
- Other appointment characteristics (urban, rural, yoked)
- Other characteristics (ethnicity and/or gender)
The data was collected from GBPHB and the GCFA. Retired pastors serving congregations and supply pastors were excluded because their data is generally excluded from the Board of Pension data. Part-time and other local pastors serving local congregations have been included as their numbers are greater.
The salary figures used for the analysis include the salary and any housing allowance (if any) paid to the pastor and reported to GCFA. It does NOT include other forms of compensation, such as benefits and contributions to pension funds.
More than 80% of the pastors in the study held full-time appointments, even though both the number of part-time appointments and the proportion of pastors being paid for half- or quarter-time have increased over the past 10 years. During the study years, the percentage of full-time pastors in the data decreased from 89% in 1997 to 79% in 2008; also, the percentage of pastors earning half- or quarter-time increased from 3% to 17%.
The differences in salaries? Hour for hour, three-quarters-time pastors earn 73% of what their full-time colleagues earn, half-time pastors earn 64% and one-quarter time pastors earn 41% of what full-time pastors earn.
Little gain in clergy of color
While the number of women pastors steadily increases, the majority of United Methodist pastors serving U.S. appointments are men. When the study began in 1998, 20% of U.S. pastors were female. In 2008, that percentage had increased to 29%. (Remember, women make up 57% percent of the U.S. population and at least 57% of United Methodist membership.)
The number of pastors of color lags even farther behind, with racial/ethnic clergy comprising only 12% of United Methodists serving clergy appointments. (The U.S. population is 35% non-white; membership in The United Methodist Church in the United States is about 5% racial/ethnic, according to the GCORR.)
According to Johnson, the number of racial/ethnic clergy has not changed dramatically over the past 10 years. The majority of non-white pastors are Black (7%), followed by Asian (3%), and Hispanic/Latino (1%). Racial/ethnic groups that fall within the “other” category also account for about 1% of United Methodist pastors. These include Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and pastors who self-identifying in multiple categories.
Within these groupings, women earn 13% less than their male counterparts while black women and men earn 9% less. Asians overall earn 5% less, Hispanics/Latinos 15% less and those falling within the “other” categories are paid 14% less than white pastors.
The largest discrepancy in compensation is that between men and women. According to Johnson, there is a larger difference between white males and females than there is between any other race/ethnic group. Yet, when congregational attributes, seniority and other position attributes are figured into the equation, Johnson notes that Asian pastors earn 5% more than their white counterparts.
Fewer full-time clergy?
Choi notes that those who answer God’s call to professional ministry are not motivated primarily by salary. Still, clergy must pay bills, eat and—in many cases—provide for their families, so that consideration of earning a living must accompany the sense of call.
The United Methodist Church has tried to set basic standards of living for pastors by setting minimum salaries in each annual conference and establishing a plan of equity. Yet Choi challenges the church to investigate why the percentage of full-time pastors has decreased, while the number of part-time pastors has increased.
Can the various annual conferences continue to support that standard of living with fewer full-time appointments available? Which clergy should be giving priority to receive full-time appointments? Should appointments be made solely on seniority? How can bishops and cabinets provide leadership to local congregations by appointing clergy who will focus on Christian discipleship, missions, witness and justice?
Choi also points out that clergywomen tend to leave their full-time ministry because of lack of support, family issues, and other reasons. Because they leave the appointment system earlier, women have difficulty in gaining seniority that leads to higher pay. These women are more likely to switch their denominational affiliation.
Gaining seniority is the most important factor for determining clergy salaries, but for female and racial/ethnic clergy, gaining seniority requires more than just staying in the ministry. Many have determined that it requires personal and communal support from family, friends and their communities. Many female pastors and people of color do not receive any support and have had to sustain their ministry by themselves. As more women enter the ministry, however, it only goes to support the idea that the salary gap will narrow over time.
Kristin Knudson, Baltimore, Md., is a freelance journalist.