The number of women in church leadership roles in America has barely grown since 1998, according to a Duke University study.
Women still lead only 11 per cent of American congregations according to the National Congregations Study report released on Wednesday.
The director of the study, Mark Chaves, was shocked that there had been no growth in women leadership in over a decade: "When I first saw this result, I thought it had to be wrong. But it's accurate. The 'stained-glass ceiling' is real."
There are multiple factors contributing to this lack of progression for women leaders in the church, according to Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religious studies and divinity, including the fact that several major religious groups do not permit women to lead congregations. Furthermore, within denominations where female ordination is permitted, there remain congregations that are reluctant to hire a woman to lead them.
The proportion of female master of divinity students peaked in the early 2000s, declining slightly since. Many women who do graduate with an MDiv are less likely to go into full time, ordained ministry.
Of those that do become pastors, many fill assistant roles and other secondary leadership positions in churches, the study shows.
The study was based on a 2012 survey and built upon data collected in 2006 and 1998.
While the growth of women leadership has stagnated, ethnic diversity in leadership has increased, particularly in Catholic churches with Hispanic leadership. Hispanics led just two per cent of Catholic churches in 1998 compared to 17 per cent in 2012.
"It makes sense because of immigration patterns," Chaves said. "Most immigrants to this country are Catholics from Latin America."