Gender Pay Gaps for UCC Clergy: Exploring the Numbers

Last week, a Religion New Service blog article caught the attention of many clergy in both mainline and evangelical circles. Tobin Grant reported on the disparities in pay between male and female clergy—analyzed for the first time by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this year—which highlighted that the gender disparity in pay for clergywomen amounts to 76 cents for each dollar earned by a clergyman.

This type of statistic makes for a great headline; but there are some questions that it raises for me as a statistician. First, were these comparisons between male and female salaries drawn from similar position types (for example, senior minister to senior minister), or similar employment statuses (full-time versus part-time), or similar size churches (since larger churches can usually pay more)? Also, did the analysis take into consideration regional differences in pay or years of experience? Even if all of those controls were accounted for in the analyses, I wonder if the differences were statistically significant. There may be a clear difference in pay by the dollar, but does that difference discount the probability that it could have occurred purely by chance?

These may be questions that only a lover of numbers would think about; but they matter when journalists seek to simplify these statistics for the sake of headlines. As a result of this article, I was asked at least 20 times last week, “What is the ‘cents on the dollar’ figure for UCC clergywomen?” And each time, my answer was this: “It depends.”

Based on the data we currently have, here is a nuanced reporting of what we know about the differences in pay between clergymen and clergywomen in our denomination. As I will demonstrate, it’s not easy to arrive at a single all-encompassing statistic; but I hope to provide a solid preliminary picture of ministerial compensation through this particular lens.

When looking only at the records in our database for those identified as “pastors” and “senior pastors,” meaning either solo or lead pastors of congregations, there was ministerial compensation data on approximately 2,100 individuals for 2014. Gender was reported for most of those pastors; and 42% of the records were for part-time pastors only.

Because of this, it is important to compare “apples to apples.” As an example, when comparing a female part-time pastor (in a small church) to a male full-time pastor (in a large church), it is certain that the male pastor will make a higher salary. In this case, the factors of church size and full-time status will account for a larger part of the variance than gender (not to mention geographic location and years of experience).

Instead, this is what I’m interested in knowing: With all things being equal (or in statistical language, controlling for other competing factors that could be attributed to a difference in salary), is there a statistically significant (i.e. highly probable) difference in salary by gender?

When controlling for church size, it appears that there is no statistically significant salary difference between full-time clergywomen and clergymen, with males earning an estimated average of $56,790.44 and females earning an estimated average of $54,791.28 (these figures include housing/parsonage allowance). The same is true for part-time pastors, with no statistically significant differences found in salary between males and females. While it is categorically true in both cases that male clergy earn more than female clergy, this difference is not due to more than a chance occurrence. (See Figure 1)


Figure 1: Estimated Salary Averages for United Church of Christ Full-Time and Part-Time Solo/Lead Pastors by Gender (Controlled for Church Size; Includes Housing Allowance)

However, because I could only add controls for the size of a congregation (using reported membership totals for 2014), this may not be a completely accurate salary comparison. Even with these statistical omissions, this analysis does get us a little closer to a more accurate representation of whether or not there is a predictable, discernible difference in salary by gender that accounts for church size; and for now, it appears that there is none within the United Church of Christ.

I also examined the size of the effect of church membership on overall salary differences. It turns out that membership size has very little effect on salary. More importantly, however, is the finding that gender has an even smaller effect on overall full-time and part-time salaries. So even though the effects of both gender and church size are minimal on salaries, membership size has a greater effect than gender.

In the end, I suspect that other factors such a geographic region and years since ordination may have a greater effect on clergy salary differences, especially since these often serve as criteria for Conference compensation guidelines. And while the overall salary differences by gender in the United Church of Christ are not nearly as noteworthy as what was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (which included all U.S. clergy), we cannot discount the continued pervasiveness of gender bias in the search and call process for ministers.

In the UCC, only 38.3% of all lead/solo pastor positions are held by ordained clergywomen; yet 70.3% of associate/assistant pastor positions are occupied by ordained clergywomen, with half of those positions being part-time (2015 and 2014 UCC Statistical Profiles). A poignant recent article chronicles this and other pervasive challenges faced by clergywomen both in the U.S. and abroad. So while we have gained ground in terms of pay equality (equal pay for equal work), we have a long road to travel in order to arrive at equity for clergywomen (and we haven’t even discussed where trans/gender non-conforming pastors fit into the picture).

When all is said and done, calculated from the salary averages above, it can be tentatively stated that for full-time lead/solo pastors, female clergy earn 96 cents for every dollar earned by male clergy in the UCC (keeping in mind that this is not a predictable, replicable result). The numbers are never that simple…

4 thoughts on “Gender Pay Gaps for UCC Clergy: Exploring the Numbers

  1. Pingback: The Church and Sexism: What We Can Do - The Young Clergy Women Project

  2. Pingback: Closing the Clergy Gender Pay Gap

  3. Kristina, thanks for this. Some of us who have been in ministry for a long time can still feel the sting of the days when women didn’t get calls, much less get equal pay. Good to know how both things are changing.

    Liked by 1 person

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