What social class do clergy belong in? Traditionally members of the clergy have been the most educated and influential members of their community--they are the archetypal professionals. But economic class status is a far different matter. As part of his investigation of the economic history of American religion, project director James Hudnut-Beumler has been looking at historical trends in clergy compensation. Drawing on compensation data from the Methodist Episcopal Church (north and south), Hudnut-Beumler has found that Methodist clergy income has more than doubled--in real dollars--from 1880 to 1992. But as this graph reveals, the story is more complex than that. In 1960 Methodist clergy income nearly equaled the national median family income. After 1968, however, real clergy income spiraled downward; by the late 1970s clergy made less than half of what a typical middle class family spent in a year. Thus, while the American standard of living soared and the middle class grew, by 1980 the Methodist minister could not claim much more than a tenuous hold in that middle class. A close look at the economic history of American religion reveals a complex understanding of the class status of the clergy.
Excerpted from James Hudnut-Beumler's research on the economic history of American religion.
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