Religion May Play a Role in Determining the Size of Your Paycheck

A statue of Brigham Young, second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stands in the center of Salt Lake City -- where religion plays a significant role in the existing pay gap

A statue of Brigham Young, second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, stands in the center of Salt Lake City — where religion plays a significant role in the existing pay gap | George Frey/AFP/Getty Images

They say you should avoid two particular subjects at work and around the dinner table — politics and religion. They’re explosive and can create rifts between friends, colleagues, and family members. But they’re also incredibly important and play an integral role in everyone’s lives, whether they realize it. When should you be willing to bring these subjects up, though? Is it ever appropriate?

Would you, for example, be willing to bring up the topic of religion if you knew it was a primary reason your paycheck is smaller than you’d like?

It’s all related to the gender pay gap — a fairly controversial topic that is not easily explained. The basic idea is that women are paid less than men. You may have heard statistics thrown out there, including the famous “women earn $0.77 for every $1 a man earns.” This is true, but a bit misleading. While there is clear evidence of a pay gap, the reason it exists often has more to do with chosen professions and career paths than misogyny. Having children, actually, tends to be the primary factor that drives women’s wages down in the long run.

But according to a new report, the pervasiveness of religion in a given area also plays an outsized role in the creation of the pay gap — at least more so than previously thought.

The pay gap and religion

Shot of mixed race young people sitting at a table

Group of people networking | Ammentorp Lund

The report in question, released by the left-leaning think tank The Economic Policy Institute, delves into the causes of the gender pay gap. The report points out that the gender gap varies depending on where you live, and that certain areas have much higher gaps than others.

“The gender wage gap, as measured by women’s share of men’s hourly wages at the median, ranges from 74.8 percent (in Wyoming) to 92.9 percent (in Washington, D.C.)”, the report said. “Typical female workers in Washington, D.C., and Vermont make more than 90 percent of the wages of their male counterparts. In nine states, women are paid less than 80 percent of their male counterparts’ wages.”

So, how does religion play into all of this?

The EPI writes that there are many factors at play, but cultural differences carry some serious weight. Religion, or “religiosity,” as the report calls it, is one of those cultural differences that varies wildly from state to state, and has a big impact on the pay gap.

“After holding other factors constant, states with a higher score of ‘religiosity’ — including higher frequency of prayer, worship service attendance, and expressed belief in prayer among other measures — experience a wider gender wage gap,” the report reads. “According to the researchers, the reason for this is that religiosity is often associated with more traditional views about gender roles.”

The pay gap by state

A man looking to the sky -- possibly to the creator?

Businessman at work | Ltd

Essentially, religion and conservative values or views are seemingly tied to bigger wage gaps. This is because women in areas that are more conservative or religious take on more traditional gender roles. For example, a woman in Utah (a very conservative and religious state) is more likely to find herself as a teacher or child care worker than a scientist or software developer.

There are obviously a lot of other variables at play, but this is the gist of it. This explains why a city like Washington, D.C. has a much smaller pay gap than a small town in Louisiana. Religion, in many of these areas, is at the root of many people’s conservative views. In aggregate, we see the effect that the report explores; that is, a pay gap emerges.

Here’s a visual, straight from the EPI’s report:

The gender pay gap, by state

The gender pay gap, by state | Economic Policy Institute

This report, taken on its face, makes it evident that religion is actually playing a part in the pay gap. It doesn’t seem like this is done purposefully or maliciously, but it is interesting — and likely something that most people don’t even consider.

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