Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Gender Pay Gap in the Church Smaller than in the White House

A few weeks ago Frank Bruni, former restaurant critic turned op-ed columnist (1, 23, 4) wrote a piece entitled “Catholicism Undervalues Women.” Bruni argues that what women in the Catholic Church are paid doesn’t really matter (“Pay isn’t the primary issue”) if they can’t become priests, the Church does not provide them birth control, and are called sister rather than father (…unaware of mothers and brothers?). He also is disturbed that the Bible says the 12 apostles were men. Given these issues Bruni concludes that the Church “casts women as offshoots, even afterthoughts.”

There are a lot of issues here. This post focuses on the interesting point Bruni’s piece teases—even if he considers it unimportant. Are women working for the Church being paid as much as men? This still seems to me to be a significantly compelling issue in testing whether the Church “undervalues women.”

One important thing to consider is that the Church is a global institution with many hierarchical layers. Beyond pay, there has been some recent discussion about the possibility of female cardinals and deaconesses (1, 2, 3, 4). In the here and now, Michael O'Loughlin over at Crux recently looked at the number of women in high-level U.S. diocesan positions. In this post, I’ll address what is happening at the parish-level in the United States with an emphasis on pay (previously we have addressed pay by ministry position and the demographic composition parish staffs).

First it is important to set a benchmark. For example, the gender pay gap within the White House is 12 cents. Men earn an average of $88,600 per year and women $78,400. That means for every dollar men earn working for the Obama Administration, women earn 12 cents less. The gap at the White House is better than what the Administration says this is for women nationally where for every dollar earned by men, women earn 23 cents less. The Pew Research Center disagrees with the White House math and instead estimates that women earn 16 cents less per dollar than men nationally (down from 36 cents in 1980).

The best data CARA has on pay within parishes was collected in a national survey in the fall 2010 and published in 2011 by The National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA) as part of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project. The survey included information on 5,701 persons working in parishes in ministry and non-ministry positions in 433 randomly selected parishes. The data summarized below includes only those being paid. Parishes often rely on significant numbers of volunteers for some of its ministries (about 37 percent of those working in parishes volunteer and 59 percent of volunteers are men—many of them permanent deacons).

Overall, when one includes all paid staff including clergy, vowed religious, and other lay persons, women earn 11 cents less than men per dollar earned (or $2,560 fewer dollars per year). Although a gap still exists, the situation in the Church is apparently better than in the White House or the country as a whole.

When one excludes clergy and religious sisters or brothers working in parishes the gap increases to 17 cents per dollar (note: pastors typically earn among the lowest wages in the parish at $12.90 per hour, although they do receive the benefits of free room and board). However, this includes many positions that are part-time or per service (e.g., musicians, groundskeeping). When one restricts the analysis further to lay persons working 35 or more hours per week the pay gap decreases to 10 cents per dollar. Note that CARA prefers to use medians for income rather than means. If we were to use average pay instead this pay gap would be even smaller at 8 cents per dollar.

Many critics of the type of pay statistics discussed above note that these do not necessarily represent a measurement of “equal pay for equal work.” There are many different jobs aggregated in these data.

Do women earn less than men doing the same type of work? It depends on the ministry or service being provided. Among lay administrators (e.g., Parish life Coordinators, Parish Administrators, Pastoral Ministry Directors) the pay gap is bigger at 26 cents per dollar. Yet among those working in social or pastoral ministries (e.g., Family Life Directors, Pastoral Counselors, Parish Nurses, Senior Ministry Directors, Social Ministry Directors) the pay gap swings entirely in the other direction with men earning 27 cents less per dollar than women. There are also disparities among those working in facilities management (e.g., maintenance workers, custodians, cooks, housekeepers) and business management and bookkeeping (Business Managers, Bookkeepers, Account Clerks, Stewardship Coordinators) with women earning 25 cents and 21 cents less on the dollar, respectively. In nearly all other staff areas, pay gaps are much smaller—even down to 3 cents per dollar for general office staff and reception (e.g., Office Managers, Administrative Assistants, Secretaries, Receptionists).

The preceding table still aggregates people doing different jobs in similar types of work. If one moves down to specific job titles and descriptions another portrait is evident. Here are results spanning some of the more common staff positions:

Pastoral Associates or Assistants serve as a chief assistant to the pastor in a parish, coordinating several parish activities and programs. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $42,500 compared to lay women who earn $36,823 representing a 13 cent wage gap per dollar.

Youth Ministry Directors lead parish youth ministry programs including catechetics, spiritual formation, worship, leadership training, and service opportunities. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $37,224 compared to lay women who earn $32,000 representing a 14 cent wage gap per dollar.

Catechetical Ministry Directors lead religious education programs including formation for adults, teens, and children. They supervise staff and volunteers in the program. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $39,936 compared to lay women who earn $38,444 representing a 4 cent wage gap per dollar.

Music Directors plan and coordinate parish music often including several choirs and musician groups. They also supervise and train musicians and cantors and plan special music performances. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $40,000 compared to lay women who earn $39,690 representing a 1 cent wage gap per dollar.

Bookkeepers maintain records for general ledger, subsidiary ledgers, payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable and monitor current financial information for all funds. Lay men serving in these positions earn a median annual wage of $30,000 compared to lay women who earn $31,164 representing a -4 cent wage gap per dollar.

CARA conducted a smaller national survey of 532 Catholic staff members in 246 randomly selected parishes in 2012. Among those paid, this study estimated a median salary for men of $32,000 and $31,000 for women representing only a 3 cent gender wage gap overall. Frank Bruni should know that the Catholic Church in the United States still has some work to do on pay equality but it is less work than many other American institutions—including the White House.

Currency image courtesy of Vic.


The Island of Misfit Polls

There you go again (1, 2, 3)... According to the Pew Research Center, "Catholics appear to be declining both as a percentage of the population and in absolute numbers" in the United States. But are Catholics disappearing anywhere else other than within in the walls of the Pew Research Center?

As shown in the figure above, the self-identified Catholic affiliation percentage since 2010 has mostly varied between 21% and 26% among surveys conducted by Gallup, Pew, PRRI (data are only available for analysis from 2010 to 2013), and the General Social Survey (GSS). The average of all these polls is 23.2%. This is generally consistent with a trend that began in the late 1940s in Gallup's surveys and has persisted through the GSS series that began in the early 1970s. The only series on the figure above that shows a downward trend (i.e., the dashed lines) is Pew's. The current study estimates that 20.8% of U.S. adults are Catholic. This is down from 23.9% in a similar study conducted by Pew in 2007.

Pew is taking the difference between these two survey estimates quite literally; so much so that they have attempted to do a population trend analysis with just these two data points. It takes a special kind of hubris to treat survey data as if it were a census and declare a trend with an N of 2 (...knowing that this result was not generally evident in other polling, which is noted well after the declaration on page 115 in Appendix C of the report). This will either turn out to be a brilliant claim ("we said it first") or a bit of a blemish for survey research. Time will tell and to be honest it already has as the 2014 GSS came out of the field after Pew and that study estimated 25.4% of U.S. adults are Catholic. As the principal investigator for the GSS noted in the Wall Street Journal today, "There’s no hint of any decline."

I've heard Pew researchers claim that the question wording they use allows people to be honest and more easily admit they have no religious affiliation (i.e., reducing social desirability bias). But I believe PRRI uses the same question and I don't see the same trend in their data that is evident in Pew's surveys (PRRI's American Values Atlas estimates that 23% of adults were Catholic in 2014). I don't think it's the question wording.

The lower than average Catholic estimate in Pew's study could be a reflection of some sampling issue. As noted on page 71 of Pew's report, only 48% of Latino respondents self identified as Catholic in the study. Among the surveys (using bilingual or English and Spanish interviewers) shown in the figure above, the typical poll estimates a majority of Hispanic or Latino adults self-identify as Catholic. Accurately sampling and surveying Spanish-speaking Hispanics/Latinos in the United States is one of the more challenging tasks survey researchers have. CARA's meta-analysis of recent national surveys indicates this can often be the source of a survey estimate for Catholic affiliation "falling low" when aggregated with other studies.

As I often tell my students at Georgetown, surveys are blurry portraits of reality. Treat them as such. There is always more to worry about than the margin of sampling error. Confidence intervals still exist even when you interview 35,000 people. And beyond that there are many potential error components that have nothing to do with chance. I have no doubt that the number of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated is rising. There are pieces of data that indicate to me that the Catholic affiliation percentage in the U.S. will fall in the future ( the same time, the Catholic population will likely continue to grow). As a scientist I will always follow the data. But I am rarely convinced by a finding that is inconsistent with what most others are registering. I've read Pew's report. I'm generally a fan of their work. But I still feel I have no credible evidence that the Catholic population is declining in the United States. It is possible but not very likely. In other words, statistically speaking, don't bet on it. 


Data Check: Catholic Population Changes and New Ordinations

Two recent news stories caught our eye at CARA. The first reports on “declining membership” in the Catholic Church and the second on an “increase in ordinations” in the United States:

Even though the membership of the Catholic Church in the U.S. has been declining in the past two decades, the billow of Hispanic immigrants to the U.S. has sustained the church and helped keep parishes across the country open.” -Albuquerque Journal

Almost 600 Catholic men will be ordained priests for the U.S. in 2015, an increase of more than 100 from last year.” -The Washington Times

Both of these stories contain some factual elements and they also both manage to be quite flawed reflections of reality...

1. Has “the membership of the Catholic Church” in the United States “been declining” in recent decades?
No it certainly has not. Membership represents the total population of persons who are Catholic (baptized and self-identifying as Catholic) and there has not been any decline in the membership of the Catholic Church in the United States since reliable data became available after World War II.

Has immigration added to Catholic numbers in the United States? Yes; as it always has. Not only does immigration increase the number of Catholics, it increases the numbers of many groups in the U.S. today and is a significant and growing force behind the country’s overall population growth as fertility rates have fallen below replacement levels.

The figure below shows survey estimates from the General Social Survey (GSS) on the size of the adult Catholic population of the United States by place of birth. Fluctuations survey to survey are largely reflections of margin of error. However, the long-term trend line generally slopes up for both those born in the United States and those born elsewhere.

The share of adult Catholics who were born in the U.S. has declined in the last 15 years but this population (i.e., “membership”) has continued to grow in absolute numbers (more on this common misunderstanding involving percentages and population growth here)

Between 1944 and 1996, the Catholic Church in the United States baptized 54.8 million infants and children (representing adults in the U.S. today for which baptism data are available). The current size of the adult self-identified Catholic population in the U.S. is 61 million. In general, the Church’s baptism data are reflected in the memories of people who have been Catholic at some point in their life. As shown in the figure below, the baptisms celebrated in the Church between 1943 and 1960 represent 27% of all births in the U.S. during those years. Twenty-seven percent of Baby Boomers born during those years recall being raised Catholic in the GSS. Today, 19 percent of the adult Baby Boomer population born in the U.S. of self-identifies as Catholic (representing a 72% retention rate among those raised Catholic during this period). Baptisms in the Generation X years (1961-81) reflect 30% of births during this period. Twenty-seven percent of Gen-Xers born in the U.S. say they were raised Catholic. Seventeen percent of Gen-Xers today self-identify as Catholic (representing a 64% retention rate among those raised Catholic during this period).

What is a bit odd is that more adult Millennials born in the United States (1982 or later) recall being raised Catholic than the Church baptized during this period. Twenty-nine percent of native-born Millennials say they grew up Catholic but baptisms during this period represent only 25% of births. Currently, 19% of adult Millennials born in the U.S. say they self-identify as Catholic (representing a retention rate of 63%).

The blue bars on the figure above represent the share of the foreign-born population who were raised Catholic and who self-identify as Catholic. Adding the lightest green color bar and the lightest blue color bar provides the total estimate for adult Catholic affiliation for each generation (19.4% + 6.3% = 25.7% Catholic among adult Baby Boomers).

The pie chart below shows current and former Catholic populations by place of birth among all adults in the United States. What is often ignored in the discussion of Catholics who leave the faith is that immigration also is a source of these former Catholics. Twelve percent of adults are former Catholics and nearly one in five of this population (18%) were born outside the United States.

In 1980, 22.6% of U.S. adults were born in the U.S. and Catholic, representing 36 million individuals. In 2014, 18.4% of U.S. adults were born in the U.S. and Catholic, representing 44.3 million individuals. Again, the population share declined but the total membership of this group increased by more than 8 million or by 22%. This is a rather simple mathematical reality that should have been observed in the news story.

One other tidbit in the original news story was the notion that immigrants help “keep parishes across the country open.” Some Northeastern and Midwestern urban parishes have closed in recent years but this is more due to internal migration (to the suburbs and South and West; 1, 2, 3) as well as priest shortages rather than imaginary “declines” in the U.S. Catholic population. People move, buildings generally don’t. Closing parishes in areas with too few Catholics has made perfect sense. However, failing to open new ones where parishioners can’t find a parking spot will likely continue to be a problem for the Church in many other areas unless new construction picks up.

2. Will the Church experience a big jump in the number of priests ordained in 2015?
Maybe? The reporter in this story was referencing CARA data collected for the USCCB. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh reacted to this research noting, “It is encouraging to see the slight increase in the number of ordinations this year in the United States.” Slight increase is an appropriate characterization. On the other hand, what appeared in The Washington Times and some other outlets lacked some important details and context.

As explained in CARA’s report: “To obtain the names and contact information for these ordinands, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) contacted all theologates and houses of formation in fall 2014 to request names and contact information for every seminarian who was scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in 2015. CARA also requested names from the vocation director at all dioceses and archdioceses in the United States as well as the major superior of all U.S. based institutes of men religious.” This process led to “595 potential ordinands reported to CARA by theologates, houses of formation, arch/dioceses, and religious institutes.” CARA does this so it can then send a survey to the ordinands. When CARA conducted this study in the previous year, 477 potential ordinands were identified and reported to us. Thus, 118 more potential ordinands were identified in 2015 than in 2014 (i.e., a 25% increase).

Potential ordinands and eventual actual ordinands are two different numbers. The research process can be affected by responses to CARA’s request for information each year. This year CARA, was a bit more “relentless” in its follow-up than usual as these data were also to be used in a major new study examining family influences on nurturing vocations.

The figure below shows the trends in the number of potential ordinands identified by CARA in recent years along with the actual numbers of new ordinands as well as the net change in the number of diocesan priests each year with the addition of new priests and losses from deaths and men leaving the priesthood. Generally, the number of potential ordinands tracks with the number of priests ordained but there is some volatility year to year. It is possible that 2015 will end up like 2008 and be more off the mark than other years.

Between 2001 and 2013 the Church in the U.S. has ordained fewer than 500 priests in any given year. In 2014 it passed this mark and is likely to do so again in 2015 but we cannot be sure just how much above 500 this will end up being. That is good news. The bad news is in the red line ( we’ve noted before) Five hundred is still not enough to make up for the losses each year due for the most part to mortality. Only 8% of losses in 2012 were due to priest defections (59 of 740 diocesan priests lost). The Catholic Church needs about 700 to 800 ordinations of diocesan priests a year to stem the decline in the total number of these clergy. In 2012, the Church ordained 398 diocesan priests (along with 59 religious priests). If the Church ordains 595 diocesan and religious priests in 2015 that would indeed be a significant uptick but still insufficient in the broader context.

We can also see the potential numbers of new priests in the years ahead in seminary enrollments. The next two figures are from data in CARA’s Ministry Formation Directory. It documents the relatively steady numbers of those studying to become priests in U.S. seminaries. Currently there are 5,454 of these men and teens enrolled from high school seminaries to post-baccalaureate theologates.

The second figure, showing fourth year theologate enrollments, is more important for predicting how many priests might be ordained in the near future. These numbers have been quite steady in the last decade and retention has averaged 76% during this period (i.e., about three in four of those who enter as first-year students are enrolled in the fourth year). Currently there are 591 seminarians in their third year followed by 654 in their second year, and 661 in their first year (see page 16). Each of these class sizes will be smaller before they reach their fourth year. For example, the 561 seminarians in their fourth year in 2015 numbered 596 in their third year, 706 in the second year, and 768 in their first year.

Until we see the final numbers on those who are ordained it is safest to stick with Bishop Burbidge’s observation of a potential “slight increase.” A trend isn’t evident until you have a series of moving observations. It is possible 2014 and 2015 may be the beginning of a very positive trend for the Church but we won’t really know until we get a third observation in 2016. Even then the Church would still have a sizable deficit to overcome before it reaches a more ideal number of ordinations on the order of 700 to 800 per year to establish stability in the diocesan priest population in the United States.

In conclusion…. Reading these two news stories, people may have been left with the impression that the future will include fewer Catholics and more priests. Both of these notions are, for now, incorrect.

Data image courtesy of janneke staaks.

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