Journal Article

The Stained Glass Ceiling: Career Attainment for Women Clergy

Paul Sullins

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 61, issue 3, pages 243-266
Published in print January 2000 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 2000 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
The Stained Glass Ceiling: Career Attainment for Women Clergy

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Despite formal acceptance, women clergy have faced subordination in practice in many Protestant denominations. Previous theory has located this disparity in a distinction between the bureaucratic or “tightly coupled” elements of denominational organization and those that are cultural or “loosely coupled,” predicting that, as the innovation of ordained women becomes routinized over time, gender disparities among the clergy will diminish.

To examine this thesis, priests in the Episcopal church in 1999 (n = 15,056) are examined for career gender inequality in status of position. Status is measured by independent rankings of the prestige of 15 position titles by experts and randomly selected clergy (n = 22) producing a highly reliable scale (inter-respondent alpha is .99). I find that: women clergy are over-represented in subordinate positions and those having lower status; this inequality is remarkably constant and undiminished over time and throughout the clergy career; and occurs only in congregational, not administrative, positions. All three findings are confirmed in a smaller sample of clergy in another female-ordaining denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

These findings confirm yet also suggest limitations to the predictions using organizational theory. I argue that, in addition to organizational dynamics, the analogy of family relationships may also be fruitful for understanding gender in modem religious denominations.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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