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Income trends for female clergy mirror U.S. averages

'Called to Serve' report shows women's status 34 years after ordinations began

[Episcopal News Service] According to two recently released studies, the pay disparity between male and female clergy in the Episcopal Church mirrors the rest of the United States.

Data in "Women in America," a statistical portrait released March 1 by the White House, show that women earned about 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 2009.

"Called to Serve," a Church Pension Fund study of clergy women and their families released in late January, found that women earned $45,656 on average compared with an average for male clergy of $60,773, or 75 percent.

There are 5,542 ordained women in the Episcopal Church, including 12 bishops, and 12,464 male clergy.

"Despite the presence of women clergy in the church for over thirty years, there are still significant gaps when comparing compensation and years of service between male and female clergy, pointing to the significant obstacles that women clergy face," Matthew Price, Church Pension Group vice president and director of analytical research, wrote in the report's introduction.

"Women's ministry also takes place in a wider society that influences and constrains what women can do," said Price of the other study's findings. "Family roles that still place on women primary responsibility for the raising of children and the care of elderly parents constrain the opportunities that women have to pursue opportunities in ministry."

The study was based on research conducted during the 2006-2009 triennium and provides a new understanding of the challenges, career patterns, constraints, and overall welfare and wellness of clergy women, the release said.

In the fall of 2008, 4,500 ordained women in the Episcopal Church -- and 1,500 male clergy – were invited to answer questions about their aspirations, needs, and experience of how ministry is lived out through their lives. Researchers had incomplete contact information for about 1,000 additional female clergy, Price told Episcopal News Service, but widely publicized the effort and any clergywoman who contacted researchers and updated her contact information received the survey.

The Pension Fund conducted the survey in collaboration with the Executive Council's Committee on the Status of Women, the Church Pension Fund's Office of Research, the Episcopal Church Center's Office of Women's Ministry, and CREDO Institute Inc.

More background about the survey is included in the report's introduction.

The White House study looked at demographic and family changes, education, employment, health, and crime and violence. It is the first comprehensive federal report on women since 1963, when the Commission on the Status of Women, established by President John F. Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, produced a report on the conditions of women, according to a White House press release.

"I sorely wish I could say that there has been great progress for women in the almost 40 years women have been ordained priests, but if the "Called to Serve" report shows us anything, it's that we still have a long way to go," said the Rev. Cynthia Black, chair of the Committee on the Status of Women, and a priest in the Diocese of Minnesota.

The report examined service and compensation gaps between clergy men and women, looked at "formal structural barriers, but also at the subtle steering currents that lead clergy women into career backwaters," and lastly examined forces outside the church that may contribute to the gaps, according to the introduction.
 
The study showed that married men receive greater compensation on average ($61,964) than men who are not married ($55,388), and the inverse is true for women. Married women receive significantly less compensation on average ($44,544) than non-married women ($47,455). And men were significantly more likely than women to have successfully negotiated a greater compensation package than what had been offered.

In addition, men show significantly higher employment ratios, defined as years of employment with respect to years since ordination. Married men have greater employment ratios (65% on average) than non-married men (59%), while married women have lower employment ratios (47% on average) than non-married women (51%).
 
The study found that clergywomen traditionally have been challenged in being able to move from an associate rector or other staff-level placement to a rectorship or other position where they are the principal or senior ordained leader. "Research over the past thirty years has shown a persistent trend of men called to rectorships by their second placement, on average, while women typically have moved laterally to another staff position," researcher the Rev. Dr. Paula Nesbitt wrote.

She noted that being a rector is seen as "the normal expected experience for clergy to be called to high-level leadership within the church, such as cathedral dean or bishop." Men were also significantly more likely to have applied for a position as cathedral dean or bishop.

A press release from the Committee on the Status of Women noted that at present, less than three percent of diocesan bishops are women.

"While we found that male and female clergy perceive that the formal deployment mechanisms of the church are, to an extent, gender-neutral, the informal, less-structured means by which clergy reach their vocational goals still inhibit women clergy from attaining the highest positions within the Church," Price wrote in the study's conclusion. "Paula Nesbitt's data point clearly to the continuing barriers women face simply getting a foot on the important early rungs of the career ladder. Even when a rectorship had been obtained, female clergy, in their comments, showed some frustration about their experiences as parish rectors, reflected in the congregation's resistance to having a female cleric."

Among the external factors noted was the fact that twice as many married/partnered clergywomen are unable to find jobs where they live and are unable to move to a different location. This may explain why so many married/partnered clergywomen (43%) hold part-time positions in the church.

Far more male clergy hold full-time positions while there are children in the home. "This is most likely caused by clergy women needing to balance their vocations with the responsibility of being the primary caregiver in the home," researcher Andrea VanZile wrote in the report.

The survey results also showed that, while both male and female clergy experience stress in balancing their roles at home with their roles in the church, significant stress is placed on clergywomen by the lack of caregiving time and support and the lack of mobility.

"Hence the home, far from being a refuge from the high stress levels that clergy face in their vocational lives, may instead become yet another source of stress," Price concluded.

The Rev. Yejide Peters, a priest in the Diocese of New York, said in the release from the Committee on the Status of Women that "these data beg a number of questions: How are we encouraging and mentoring young women for leadership in the church? How is their call being fostered?" 

Price said that the survey results point to the need for even more research, including "a better sense of the inner dynamics of parish search committees because that is the place in which decisions routinely being made may mean that women are unable to place their foot on the first rung of the career ladder."

Also needed, he said, is a stronger idea of the intra-family dynamics that go into the decision to pursue, or not to pursue, certain career opportunities, and a better understanding of "how a sense of wellness in each of these spheres affects the cleric's success in her or his chosen vocation."

Price said his office intends to take up those questions in the next few months.

The Committee on the Status of Women is developing a "Search Toolkit for Women and Search Committees," in partnership with others, which will include articles and strategies for negotiating contracts, discerning a "good fit," interviewing and understanding the Episcopal Church Transition Ministry office's new profiles for clergy and search committees.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service

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