Economic Snapshot | Education

Teacher Pay Penalty

There is an increased emphasis in building a quality teacher workforce but little attention paid to the pay penalty teachers face for working in their profession.

The figure below shows that teachers earn less than other similar non-teacher college-educated workers. Teachers working in the public sector who are represented by a union earn 13.2 percent less than other comparable college graduates. The pay gap is largest for private sector teachers without union representation (-32.1 percent). Separate analyses by gender are also presented given that the overwhelming majority of teachers are women (around 72 percent)—here female teachers were only compared to female non-teacher college-educated workers, and male teachers were only compared to male non-teacher college-educated workers. Compared to female teachers, the teacher pay penalty is worse for male teachers for each of the four teacher groups. In general, teacher pay disadvantages are mitigated if teachers are employed in the public sector—and more so if they have union representation.

Economic Snapshot

Teacher pay penalty: Percent difference between teachers' pay versus pay of demographically similar college-educated workers in other professions, 1996–2012

Public teachers (unionized) Private teachers (unionized)  Private teachers (non-unionized) Public teachers (non-unionized) 
All -13.20% -26.30% -32.10% -17.90%
Females* -7.20% -17.80% -29.50% -14.20%
Males* -24.60% -35.00% -37.20% -26.80%
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* Male teachers are compared with college-educated males in other professions, and female teachers are compared with college-educated females in other professions.

Source: Adaptation of Figure 7 (regression adjusted estimates) from Allegretto & Tojerow, "Teacher Pay & Staffing Differences: Public & Private Schools," Monthly Labor Review, September 2014

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The opportunity cost of becoming a teacher and remaining in the profession becomes more important as relative teacher pay falls further behind that of other professions. Women were once a somewhat captive labor pool for the teaching profession. But, today they have many more opportunities outside of the teaching profession. Thus, growing pay differentials will make it all the more difficult to recruit and retain the best and the brightest into the profession.

The movement toward the privatization of schools and mixed charter schools, which do not have the union density of public schools, is also problematic given the large pay gaps of non-unionized teachers working in private schools. For more information, see a recent paper by me and Ilan Tojerow, which analyzes teacher pay in great detail and looks at differences by school ownership type based on gender, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, and union density from 1996 through 2012.

See related work on Teacher pay

See more work by Sylvia Allegretto