Commentary
By Jenna Barnett 4-04-2017

The warm fuzzy feminist feelings of Women’s History Month have hardly worn off and already Equal Pay Day is rolling around — a day symbolizing how far into the year women in the U.S. must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

For those who are counting, that’s 94 days. Ninety-four reminders of the stubbornly persistent — and plateauing — pay gap between men and women. According to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time working woman earns 20 percent less than the average full-time working man. The disparity grows starker for women of color: Black women make 37 percent less than men, and Latinas make 46 percent less. This disparity is wide enough to push some people to activism, and others to try to understand why this gap exists. And generational shifts don't change that: A 2015 Pew Research study revealed that women and men start out on a fairly even playing field, with millennial women earning 90 percent as much as men. But as we get older, the gap gets wider. 

A Washington Post article from last year neatly laid out some of the most likely explanations.The most obvious and frequently cited: discrimination. For instance, women are 20 percent more likely than men to be fired for misconduct and 30 percent less likely to find new jobs afterward.

Social scientists credit motherhood to explain another section of the pay gap. Mothers who work full time make about $16,000 less annually than full-time working fathers. Women, the study found, are much more likely to take breaks in their career for child rearing than men — a decision that stunts their chances of steady, linear salary increase. It’s quite possible that better parental leave could help close this slice of the pay gap, but it’s also possible that mothers will continue to choose careers with flexible hours and lower salaries. Which leads to another posited explanation: choice of degree and industry.

According to the Daily Beast, the top ten most remunerative majors (except pharmaceutical scientists) are dominated by men. Conversely, all but one of the least remunerative majors — mainly majors that lead to work in the caring professions — are dominated by women. Theology and other religious vocations is the lone exception: Only 34 percent of these majors are women.

But the future isn’t looking as financially bright for these aspiring female clergy as it does for their male peers. While women in many of the caring professions have nearly reached pay parity with men, female clergy lag far behind. In 2014, women clergy earned 76 cents for each dollar earned by their male clergymates. We are still waiting for new data to reveal if that gap has narrowed or widened over the past couple years. But we do know that at least one denomination is trying to do something about it: the United Methodists.

The Rev. Stephanie Arnold, a pastor on the staff at First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, asked women in the North Alabama Conference to confidentially share stories of harassment, abuse, and discrimination. Male clergy read quotes from a handful of these stories aloud in the video “#HerTruth: Women in Ministry Break Their Silence.”

One woman shared, “If I was given a dollar for every time I was told I’m too pretty to be a pastor, I could pay off the church building debt.” But she still might not have enough to close the gender pay gap in the church.

Another woman in Arnold’s video gives us a window into what the pay gap looks like in action:

“I was offered a significant raise by my church when I became the senior pastor. But the bishop at the time had the church reduce my salary by $5,000. The bishop told me it could be bad for my husband’s self-esteem if I made so much money — since my husband was clergy as well, that it might be hard on our marriage.”

Looks like it’s time to repent. And pay up.

Jenna Barnett is the Women and Girls Campaign Associate for Sojourners.

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