The Church and the Wage Gap

Wage Gap Church Marquee

There are few forms of discrimination that have as much wide-spread and consistent impact on success then the wage gap. The wage gap references the statistical gap between men and women’s pay for equal work. To date, all skills and experience being equal, white women earn 77 cents on the dollar that white men earn. Men and women of color fare worse.

The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who hold the same job and do the same work. At the time of the EPA’s passage, women earned just 58 cents for every dollar earned by men. By 2006, that rate had only increased to 77 cents, an improvement of less than half a penny a year. Minority women fare the worst. African-American women earn just 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men, and for Hispanic women that figure drops to merely 52 cents per dollar. –InfoPlease

And if you don’t think those pennies add up, consider that a college graduated women will lose over $1 million in wage earnings compared to her male counterpart due to wage discrimination.  This sort of discrimination is intolerable and even more so because there is a lot that we can do to address it.

How can the church begin to address this issue? There is much we can do, and plenty of resources to guide us. The following is a simple plan for taking action in your church.

  1. Document and Research
  2. Collaborate and Learn
  3. Talk to the Boss
  4. Celebrate!

1. Document and Research – There are some compelling reasons to make our salaries known. The taboo on sharing how much you make is one of the reasons this sort of discrimination can thrive. Knowing what others in your field make will help you be aware of if you are being unfairly paid.  Churches as communities and action centers are a perfect place to coordinate this kind of sharing. Researching wages within your field and if you are being appropriately paid is something many people already do individually. While individual research has benefits, imagine the collaborative ability a church body has to gather this type of information and keep it shared and public within the community. Within the church, opening conversations about our incomes could have all kinds of other implications as well. Documenting also means letting it be known when you feel you were mistreated or unfairly dealt with as it relates to your wage. If any place should be a safe haven and a place to share those things, it should be the church.

2. Collaborate and Learn– Caring after the orphans and widows in their distress has to do with a lot more then providing clothing and shelter (though that’s good too). Acts of charity are good things, but wouldn’t it be amazing to see the church as a collaborating force to ensure women were treated and paid fairly? The church, as a unified body, is just the sort of community that can provide the resources and preparation for demanding fair wages.  If someone had concerns about their unfair treatment at work, the church should be able to provide contact information and resources for learning how to negotiate, rather then just an offer to pray for the person.  An African American women earning the dollar (rather then 64 cents to a white males dollar) she deserves for her work doesn’t need to depend on the charity of others to survive and she can have the pride of standing on her own two feet, rather then being the victim of oppressive discrimination.

3. Talk to the Boss– Probably the most intimidating and daunting task of many people’s jobs is asking something of their boss. Especially for single-income households, talking to your boss about your pay, or any acknowledgment of being unsatisfied with work, can be a very scary task as there is probably a great fear of getting fired. Once again, the church has an important role in this step. The churches role is to be a supportive and loving body in the midst of injustice. So, not only do we help empower and prepare people to ask for equal wages, we are also there to support them should their demands be met with resistance. It’s much easier to stand strong against mistreatment and discrimination if you have a loving supportive community around you.

4. Celebrate!– I’d urge churches or small groups to have Wage Parties, or maybe Against Injustice parties. When my house mate paid off his last school loan and became debt free, we had a celebratory party. It was a beautiful thing. Like a celebration after finding a lost coin or sheep, we should celebrate when unjustly stolen salaries have been given back. The church should be a place of praise and celebration, for fair wages as much as anything else.


source:  The steps used are based loosely on an article, Mind the Wage Gap, from the fall 2005 issue of Ms. Magazine.

(This post was originally posted in April of 2007)

11 thoughts on “The Church and the Wage Gap”

  1. Considering the discrimination involved in the hiring, advancement and wages of female church employees, its seems that the overwhelming majority of churches would need to get the log out of their own eye before broaching this subject for the outside world.

  2. I like the idea of sharing salaries. Actually my current job does just that (as does any Department of Defense job). Anyone in the world can look up my salary to the penny if they wanted to, and I think that’s the way it should be…

    Entering into a job is a 2 way agreement. No one is forced to take an underpaying job, regardless of sex, race, or anything else. So, when someone agrees to work for a certain wage, why should it matter what anyone else makes? By agreeing they are saying that they are willing to perform service X for wage Y. If that’s ok with them, great! If not, they can decline the offer and look elsewhere.

    If we saw 2 lemonade stands on the same street, one charging 5 cents/cup and the other 10 cents/cup, would we say that it’s unfair that one stand is receiving less money for the same thing? Of course not. They decided 5 cents was a fair price, so they’re happy selling their product for that price

    For a non-trivial example, check out Matthew 20…A bunch of workers started working at different times and all got paid the same thing. The ones who had worked longest complained, but the response was basically “you have nothing to complain about! We agreed on a wage and you received it. Don’t worry about what I agreed on with the other workers.”

    I guess my point is that in a capitalist society, we have the ability to negotiate our own wage. Why should it matter what others make?

    By the way – the same Department of Labor statistics show that for part-time jobs, men make less than women…

  3. Hmm, I just submitted a huge long comment and it disappeared into cyberspace somewhere…Well, here’s the summary:

    In a capitalist society where we have the ability to negotiate our own wage, why should it matter what anyone else makes? We enter into an agreement with our employer which says that we will do X for Y money. If we aren’t happy with it, we are free to go elsewhere. If we are happy, then other’s salaries don’t matter.

    This brings to mind Matt 20 – the parable of the vineyard workers. People start working at all times of the day, but all get paid the same. The people who worked the longest complain, but the employers response is basically “you have nothing to complain about! We had a deal and you were happy with it. It’s none of your business what deal I made with these other people.”

    For a more trivial example, if there are 2 lemonade stands on the same street, one selling for 10 cents/cup and the other for 15 cents/cup, would we say that the 10 cents/cup people are being treated unfairly? Of course not. They set a price that they thought was fair and are probably getting more business because of it.

    With that said, though, I’m all for sharing salaries. In fact my current job (and any job for the department of defense) does that. Anyone in the world can look up my salary to the penny if they wanted…

  4. Brian said, “No one is forced to take an underpaying job, regardless of sex, race, or anything else.”

    I disagree. If there is a choice between putting food on the table or going without you’re going to take what you can get. If women are only being offered lower paying jobs they can’t hold out forever. They have to pay their bills. And when wages are shrouded in secrecy, how is a woman supposed to know if her boss is lying when he says that his salary offer is as high as he can go? And even if she knows that he’s lying, what is she supposed to do about it?

    That fact is women start out in the work place with better credentials than men but they get lower salaries. Paying a woman less just because she is a woman is discrimination. Its wrong. And if white guys like you with all of the privilege in this country are unwilling to stand up for us then discrimination will continue.

    In the passage you reference Jesus is saying that in his kingdom you no longer get wages based on your status i.e. free Jewish male. Now Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female are equal in the kingdom. Jews were saying, “Hey, we’ve been your people all along, we’ve “worked” longer, why are the newbie Gentiles getting the same thing that we’re getting?” The parable is the opposite of how you’re using it. It is saying that the marginalized will get the same reward from God. It is most certainly not upholding a discriminatory capitalist system.

  5. not really jumping in to this discussion right now–thanks for bringing it up and we just started getting ms. magazine (picked it up at the green festival). it’s pretty sweet!

  6. I completely agree with Indie! Very well said. : )

    Great topic, Ariah. We definately need to start showing that we care about these sorts of things in the Church.


  7. Melissa,
    Awesome that your getting Ms. Magazine! It really is good, even if you find you don’t agree with some perspectives it’s a powerful awareness raising mag.

    Jamie, thanks for the encouragement, I love bringing up things that others resonate with.

    Indie and Brian, I hope this conversation continues, I think you both have valuable and wise things to say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *