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Clergy pay and the income gap

Clergy pay and the income gap

In this era of ever increasing income disparity, where a college degree offer a hefty premium across  a lifetime of earning, how are clergy faring?  Clearly, their status is in decline, but how about their income?  The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) is highlighting a recent study that sought to find the answers.  As is often the case, there’s good news and bad news.


First the good news, clergy pay is up.  “Overall, in inflation-adjusted wages, non-Catholic clergy made $4.37 more per hour in 2013 than they did in 1983. That figure is more than double the wage increase of the average worker with a college degree.”  But, though things are better than they were, clergy continue to lag behind advances for other professionals with similar education.  “Like most everyone else in this age of increasing economic inequality, clergy are continuing to fall financially behind other elite professions such as doctors, lawyers and hedge fund managers, the study found.”


The study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (the article is behind a paywall) highlighted five major trends in clergy compensation as reported by ARDA:

More financial blessings: The 35 highest-income occupations in the U.S., from investment bankers to physicians to engineers, are running away from everyone else. But excluding those professions, the income gap between clergy and other college-educated Americans is shrinking.


Greater work-family balance: A time-use study in 1934 found clergy put in a 76-hour work week. The work week of modern clergy declined from 52 hours per week in 1979 to 43 hours a week in 2013, the study of Current Population data found.

That is now nearly the same as the average 41-hour work week for other workers of similar education, according to the study.


A place of their own: As recently as 1976, 61 percent of clergy lived in church housing. By 2013, just 14 percent lived in church housing.

Having their own home away from the church not only helps preserve the privacy of ministers and their families, but is a financial asset with great potential for building equity.


The pulpit wage penalty: Clergy working as chaplains, teachers or administrators or in other nonchurch settings make 19 percent more than their peers working in congregations, the study found.


Money isn’t everything: On average, clergy earned about 7 percent more per hour the year after they left the profession; those who became clergy earned about 15 percent less per hour.

“Clearly, people paid an immediate wage penalty when they became clergy, and people who left the clergy received an immediate wage boost,” the study authors said.




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Anne Bay

As the daughter of an Episcopal Priest, I can testify that we (as a family) went through more than most people could possibly imagine trying to live on a clergy salary. My dad was ordained in 1948-I was born that year while he was finishing up at Seabury Western Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. We moved often to new parishes and missions and experienced a variety of Dioceses, Bishops, Deans, vestries,etc. Our whole life was the Church and we went through many hardships, to numerous to go into here. And other clergy families did too. We went without so much because the salary of my dad (which I learned later how low it was) was so low. And the clergy housing we had was abominable. Leaky floors, old houses, some too big, others too small. One church we were at had a vestry that complained we were using too much heat. My little brother was about one years old and because the heat was turned down he got pneumonia and was very sick. So, there is a lot that needs to be addressed. I do know that there is a large variance in salaries, housing, benefits, etc. in the world of clergy positions. I remember when I was young, we went to visit an Episcopal Rector friend of my dad and his family and we went to his son’s baseball game. We noticed that when his son went up to bat he took his shoes off and then after he ran the bases he put them back on. I later learned it was because his dad didn’t have the money to buy the baseball shoes, so he just had one pair of shoes and it was easier to run in his socks. This was typical of the sacrifices clergy families made when I was growing up to serve the Church. Being a clergy daughter had so much hardship in it, and my brothers too. But my mother is the one who should be absolutely put in the category as one of the greatest ladies who ever lived. The things she went through and how she coped with all the church stresses and heartaches I am still finding out. Yet she was a courageous quiet force to be reckoned with and was her own person in a time when women were thought to be a mere handmaiden. My mother worked her way through Kansas University, Phi Beta Kappa, and showed me how to stay strong to being my own person. I miss my parents every day. They were both great people and wonderful parents. My dad loved being a priest and I took him back to visit Seabury Western before he died. I have a picture of him sitting outside on the grounds and even elderly you could tell he was in his element. A priest to the end.

Rev. David Justin Lynch

I am a retired attorney serving as a full-time volunteer pastor of Saint Cecilia Catholic Community and pay most of the community expenses as well. Once clergy start living on funds donated by a congregation (in contrast to endowment income), the potential exists for personal financial considerations to influence how one does one’s ministry. In other words, do you not chant the liturgy or not use incense because your donors don’t approve? I think not!

Charles Scheid

I would think that a better measure would be compare total clergy compensation to median income in a congregation or locality.

Paul Woodrum

When did clergy ever make anything close to physicians, lawyers and hedge fund managers? Closer to school teachers for the most part. In Long Island, the pay for a full time rector, including housing, pension, travel and medical runs between approximately $100,000 to $150,000 a year. Rather hefty for a good many congregations.

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