Female representation in religious occupations is a story of contrasts – a consistent minority in clergy positions but a consistent majority in other religious roles.

Females made up around 47 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016 and more than half (56.8 percent) of all U.S. women worked outside the home, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s “12 Stats about Working Women,” released March 1 for Women’s History Month.

Women are a strong majority of the U.S. workforce in several career fields, but remain a small minority in others.

For example, females currently hold 98 percent of speech pathologist, 93 percent of dental assistant and 86 percent of social work positions, but only 7 percent of construction manager, 11 percent of civil engineer, 17.6 percent of clergy and 27 percent of CEO positions.

There continues to be a wide gap between the percentage of females in clergy positions and the percentage serving in other religious roles, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

BLS divides religious occupations into three categories:

  1. Clergy: “Conduct religious worship and perform other spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faith or denomination. Provide spiritual and moral guidance and assistance to members.”
  2. Directors, Religious Activities and Education: “Plan, direct or coordinate programs designed to promote the religious education or activities of a denominational group. May provide counseling and guidance relative to marital, health, financial and religious problems.”
  3. Religious Workers, All Others: “All religious workers not listed separately.”

While less than a quarter of U.S. clergy positions were held by women in 2016, they filled 55 percent of religious activities and education director positions and 64.4 percent of all other religious worker roles.

The average percentage of female clergy from 2008 to 2016 is 17.1 percent, with a high of 20.5 percent in 2013 and a low of 14.8 percent in 2009.

For females in a religious activities and education director role, the average over this time period is 65 percent, with a high of 79.2 percent in 2011 and a low of 53 in 2015.

Women in all other religious roles averaged 64.5 percent since 2008, with a high of 69.3 percent in 2011 and a low of 58.8 percent in 2015

BLS yearly data on women in the U.S. workforce is available here.

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