Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Gender Pay Gap in the Church Smaller than in the White House

A few weeks ago Frank Bruni wrote a piece entitled “Catholicism Undervalues Women.” Bruni argues that what women in the Catholic Church are paid doesn’t really matter (“Pay isn’t the primary issue”). This post focuses on the interesting point Bruni’s piece teases—even if he considers it unimportant. Are women working for the Church being paid as much as men? This still seems to me to be a significantly compelling issue in testing whether the Church “undervalues women.”

One important thing to consider is that the Church is a global institution with many hierarchical layers. Beyond pay, there has been some recent discussion about the possibility of female cardinals and deaconesses (1, 2, 3, 4). In the here and now, Michael O'Loughlin over at Crux recently looked at the number of women in high-level U.S. diocesan positions. In this post, I’ll address what is happening at the parish-level in the United States with an emphasis on pay.

First it is important to set a benchmark. For example, the gender pay gap within the White House is 12 cents. Men earn an average of $88,600 per year and women $78,400. That means for every dollar men earn working for the Obama Administration, women earn 12 cents less. The gap at the White House is better than what the Administration says this is for women nationally where for every dollar earned by men, women earn 23 cents less. The Pew Research Center disagrees with the White House math and instead estimates that women earn 16 cents less per dollar than men nationally (down from 36 cents in 1980).

The best data CARA has on pay within parishes was collected in a national survey in the fall 2010 and published in 2011 by The National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA) as part of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project. The survey included information on 5,701 persons working in parishes in ministry and non-ministry positions in 433 randomly selected parishes. The data summarized below includes only those being paid. Parishes often rely on significant numbers of volunteers for some of its ministries (about 37 percent of those working in parishes volunteer and 59 percent of volunteers are men—many of them permanent deacons).

Overall, when one includes all paid staff including clergy, vowed religious, and other lay persons, women earn 11 cents less than men per dollar earned (or $2,560 fewer dollars per year). Although a gap still exists, the situation in the Church is apparently better than in the White House or the country as a whole.

When one excludes clergy and religious sisters or brothers working in parishes the gap increases to 17 cents per dollar (note: pastors typically earn among the lowest wages in the parish at $12.90 per hour, although they do receive the benefits of free room and board). However, this includes many positions that are part-time or per service (e.g., musicians, groundskeeping). When one restricts the analysis further to lay persons working 35 or more hours per week the pay gap decreases to 10 cents per dollar. Note that CARA prefers to use medians for income rather than means. If we were to use average pay instead this pay gap would be even smaller at 8 cents per dollar.

Many critics of the type of pay statistics discussed above note that these do not necessarily represent a measurement of “equal pay for equal work.” There are many different jobs aggregated in these data. Do women earn less than men doing the same type of work? It depends on the ministry or service being provided. Among lay administrators (e.g., Parish life Coordinators, Parish Administrators, Pastoral Ministry Directors) the pay gap is bigger at 26 cents per dollar. Yet among those working in social or pastoral ministries (e.g., Family Life Directors, Pastoral Counselors, Parish Nurses, Senior Ministry Directors, Social Ministry Directors) the pay gap swings entirely in the other direction with men earning 27 cents less per dollar than women. There are also disparities among those working in facilities management (e.g., maintenance workers, custodians, cooks, housekeepers) and business management and bookkeeping (Business Managers, Bookkeepers, Account Clerks, Stewardship Coordinators) with women earning 25 cents and 21 cents less on the dollar, respectively. In nearly all other staff areas, pay gaps are much smaller—even down to 3 cents per dollar for general office staff and reception (e.g., Office Managers, Administrative Assistants, Secretaries, Receptionists).

The preceding table still aggregates people doing different jobs in similar types of work. If one moves down to specific job titles and descriptions another portrait is evident. Here are results spanning some of the more common staff positions:

Pastoral Associates or Assistants serve as a chief assistant to the pastor in a parish, coordinating several parish activities and programs. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $42,500 compared to lay women who earn $36,823 representing a 13 cent wage gap per dollar.

Youth Ministry Directors lead parish youth ministry programs including catechetics, spiritual formation, worship, leadership training, and service opportunities. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $37,224 compared to lay women who earn $32,000 representing a 14 cent wage gap per dollar.

Catechetical Ministry Directors lead religious education programs including formation for adults, teens, and children. They supervise staff and volunteers in the program. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $39,936 compared to lay women who earn $38,444 representing a 4 cent wage gap per dollar.

Music Directors plan and coordinate parish music often including several choirs and musician groups. They also supervise and train musicians and cantors and plan special music performances. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $40,000 compared to lay women who earn $39,690 representing a 1 cent wage gap per dollar.

Bookkeepers maintain records for general ledger, subsidiary ledgers, payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable and monitor current financial information for all funds. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $30,000 compared to lay women who earn $31,164 representing a -4 cent wage gap per dollar.

CARA conducted a smaller national survey of 532 Catholic staff members in 246 randomly selected parishes in 2012. Among those paid, this study estimated a median salary for men of $32,000 and $31,000 for women representing only a 3 cent gender wage gap overall. Frank Bruni should know that the Catholic Church in the United States still has some work to do on pay equality but it is less work than many other American institutions—including the White House.

Currency image courtesy of Vic.

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