Julie had been working as an associate campus minister for 15 years. Shortly before her senior leader retired, another associate minister—a man—was hired. This new associate had a salary higher than Julie’s and soon stepped into the senior leadership role when it was vacant. Julie’s salary and position remained the same.
Charlotte worked full-time on her church staff for 10 years. Though she didn’t have a degree in youth ministry, she had about 15 years’ worth of experience working in it. Her student ministry at the church saw a weekly turnout that was larger than the average Sunday service. She received her benefits from her husband’s employer, as her church—a denominational church in the South—did not provide them to her. Her salary was less than $35,000 a year.
Julie and Charlotte’s names have been changed, but the details of their stories have not. Their cases are, arguably, individual: the specific churches and ministries that employed them also employed questionable compensation practices (whether consciously or unconsciously). Yet when placed in the context of labor statistics and anecdotal evidence, their stories hint at the complex, systemic, gender-based compensation issues in the workplace—including the church.
What the gender wage gap looks like
The very existence of a wage gap between men and women is the subject of much debate. Conduct an online search using terms like “gender wage gap” and titles such as “Don’t Buy Into the Gender Pay Gap Myth” are listed alongside results like “The gender pay gap is real, and here’s who is hit hardest.”
Under federal law, any kind of gender-based pay disparity is illegal—period. “There is no question that federal law prohibits pay inequality based on gender—the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly prohibit this type of discrimination,” says attorney David Middlebrook. Yet according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), an economic think tank based in Washington, D.C., US Census Bureau data measuring full-time workers’ annual pay show that “women are paid 80 cents for every dollar men are paid.” The statistics on hourly pay aren’t much better: 83 cents for every man’s dollar.
In an October 2016 report, EPI acknowledged the “fraught” nature of the gender gap topic and the “speculat[ion] that the ‘unadjusted’ gender wage gap could simply be reflecting other influences,” such as education level and occupation. Even with such adjustments, however, EPI found a disparity in pay between the genders.